Do you ever come home on a hot day and just lie down on your cold kitchen floor? Does it sometimes happen that someone then walks in the room and expresses concern for your health? Welcome to the life of a squirrel.
Squirrels get hot like the rest of us. And when this happens, they lie flat on their bellies with their front legs stretched out before them and their back legs kicked out behind. This is called "splooting," a name coined by internet pet enthusiasts to describe the same position observed in dogs and cats. The Collins English Dictionary contains a brief definition for "sploot," suggesting it is "perhaps altered from splat." Scientists call it "heat dumping," and while it makes a lot of sense on a hot day to expose the maximum amount of your body's surface area to the air and a cool surface, when wildlife does it, everybody freaks out.
The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation received enough concerned calls about splooting squirrels in the summer of 2022 that they felt called to tweet a photo of a prostrate squirrel with this message:
Splooting can be observed in many warm blooded animals when the temperatures soar. The only real necessity is that the surface upon which the animal is splooting be cooler than the surrounding air — otherwise they'd just sort of cook themselves. A quick Google search of "splooting" yields photos of grizzly bears splooting on rocky beaches, rabbits, chipmunks and even young birds stretching out on their tummies to cool off. The reason for the face-down position is that most mammals and birds have less fur and feathers on their underside than their back, which allows for the cool surface to make more contact with the skin.