The nutty theory has been put forward by climate change scientists who reckon the cute-looking Arctic ground squirrel is responsible for unlocking vast quantities of greenhouse gases from the permafrost – a gigantic area of frozen soil and rock containing up to 1500 billion tonnes of carbon.
The furry fiends are offending on two fronts, according to findings presented to scientists at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco.
First, the squirrels are accelerating the release of greenhouse gases by disturbing, mixing and warming the frozen soil when they dig their burrows. Just for good measure their pee and poop then fertilises the soil with nitrogen – a feast for microbes as further doses of carbon dioxide and methane are released.
“They are soil engineers,” said the University of Wisconsin’s Nigel Golden, quoted by the BBC. “They break down the soil when they are digging their burrows; they mix the top layer with the bottom layer, they are bring oxygen to the soil and they are fertilizing the soil with their urine and their faeces.”
Mr Golden was among a team of boffins who travelled to Siberia to study the squirrels in action.
Of course, some sceptics might suspect that mankind’s gas-guzzling, fossil-fuelled, petrol-powered activities remain of slightly more concern than those of the Arctic ground squirrel.
But it’s certainly not the first time that we humans have pointed the finger at the animal kingdom for affecting climate change. Past studies have concluded that farting cows are responsible for firing into the atmosphere vast quantities of methane – a greenhouse gas whose contribution to global warming is 23 times greater than that of carbon dioxide. Yoinks, what a hummer…