You may think a squirrel would shy away from a venomous cobra, but you'd be wrong ...

With lightning-quick reflexes and bucketloads of boldness, Cape ground squirrels can certainly hold their own when facing off against deadly snakes (especially if the rodents have babies to protect). Safari guide Dave Pusey filmed this showdown recently in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – a vast swathe of semi-desert habitat that straddles the border between South Africa and Botswana. 

Recent rains seemed to coax snakes out of hiding and Pusey and his group had already seen a puffadder in the road before they happened upon the cobra. "We weren’t surprised to spot a Cape cobra on the side of the road," Pusey explained to Latest Sightings, adding that he had noticed several snake tracks in the freshly moistened sand. "However, [the snake] seemed to be very tense and ready to strike, and then we noticed the ground squirrel merely inches away from the cobra."

Initially fearing for the squirrel's life, the group watched as the nimble rodent repeatedly taunted the snake before swiftly hopping out of harm's way with mere milliseconds to spare. "The squirrel kept creeping up to the snake and just as it gets close enough, the snake would launch forward and snap a bite at the squirrel," Pusey recalls. "The squirrel, however, reacted much too quickly and jumped out of the reach of the bite every time!"

After half an hour of repeated taunting, the cobra eventually fled to some nearby bushes before disappearing down a hole. Pusey suspects that the squirrel may have had young nearby that it was trying to protect. "I’ve been travelling to the Kgalagadi for many years, and never thought I would ever see something like this, this was truly a once in a lifetime sighting."

Ground squirrels in other parts of the world are known for their snake-taunting tendencies. Research out of California shows that squirrels use tail-flagging displays to see off rattlesnakes. The displays likely serve as a warning to the snakes that the squirrels are vigilant and ready to dodge an attack. In many instances, the rattlesnakes abandoned their ambush sites and moved on. Points to the squirrels and their predator deterring tails.

Header image: Dave Pusey/Latest Sightings