I was at a friend’s house last week, my mud-caked Subaru parked on their drive. He and I chatted in the living room, his wife called from the front window.
“I wish you’d come look at this.” And we did. There, one on the front left, the other on the front right, were fox squirrels intently licking the mud in the wheel wells, up on their hind legs like long-tailed bipeds.
They were supplementing their need for salt, taking it from the leavings of last week’s ice and the road saltings that followed. I suppose they could smell it from the woods a hundred yards away, and risked exposure to humans and other potential predators to add salt to their diet that they don’t get quite enough of in nature. (They also are likely to gnaw on bones in the woods for the same nutritional reasons. Ever noticed tooth marks on a deer bone? We see it often.)
We take for granted how necessary salt is. (Or is it a health-destroying poison?) This hasn’t always been the case. Case in point: the word SALARY is based on the ancient word for salt, and soldiers in the Roman army were once paid in salt. If they were worth their salt.
What prompted me to tell this story, the squirrels alone maybe not quite a blog post, was running by chance across the images you’ll find in this link. Be amazed.
(BONUS FACTOID: The area now known as the city of Roanoke was originally called Big Lick. Was there a natural source of salt there? Sure is in Saltville, less than a hundred miles west of here, and s a wide variety of Ice Age creatures came there for the salt, and stayed there for the museum.