Ben here with the Monday edition of ...

Ben here with the Monday edition of #BenInNature presented by our friends at Carter Bank & Trust!

This week, I'd like to do something a little bit different: I'm going to share some of my favorite photos that have never before been featured in nature updates! For the most part, these are critters that we've seen before in this space, but weeks or months later, I managed to snap an even better picture.

To kick things off, here's a picture of an eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) that I spotted this past fall!

Have you ever wondered why squirrels seem to have such a hard time crossing the street? There's nothing more anxiety-inducing than rounding a corner, seeing a squirrel in the road, and then watching it jump back and forth between safety and certain death as you try to avoid it. It seems especially odd considering that squirrels have no problem leaping from one tree limb to another while a hundred feet in the air, but getting out of the way of 5,000 pounds of slowly approaching Detroit rolling iron seems like too much to ask for.

As it turns out, squirrels don't engage in this behavior because they have a death wish; it's actually a case of instinct taking over at the worst possible time. Squirrels are a popular target for predators, particularly hawks and other birds of prey, and over millions of years, they've evolved the instinct to out-juke their enemies by running in an unpredictable zig-zag. Although it hasn't been proven, the theory is that squirrels instinctively apply this same strategy when they're startled by an oncoming car. Unfortunately, it's significantly less successful.

Tomorrow we'll be looking at another cool squirrel that you can spot here in southwest Virginia!

ABOUT #BenInNature
Social distancing can be difficult, but it presents a great opportunity to become reacquainted with nature. In this series of posts, Administrator of Science Ben Williams ventures outdoors to record a snapshot of the unique sights that can be found in the natural world. New updates are posted Monday - Friday, with previous posts highlighted on the weekends. This series of posts is made possible thanks to the support of VMNH Corporate Partner Carter Bank & Trust (

If you discover something in nature that you would like help identifying, be sure to message us right here on Facebook with a picture (please include location and date of picture) and we'll have our experts help you identify it!

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