Fourteen sexual partners in one day may sound like a lot. But for female red squirrels, it's just a typical day in squirrel life. That is, typical for the one day per year when they are in heat.
The Kluane Red Squirrel Project has been monitoring the behavior of 7,000 squirrels for a long-term field experiment in the Yukon. They have found that on the day a female squirrel goes into heat, she will run around seducing males, and will mate with up to 14 partners on that day.
It was previously believed that specific genetics led female squirrels to copulate copious amounts, but now, as reported in Biology Letters, scientists believe it is simply based on opportunity. Female squirrels can't lower their promiscuity level, and male squirrels are often ready and willing participants.
According to Discovery News, there are some serious ramifications. Female squirrels that mate frequently are exposed to more predators, and have an increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
The Kluane Red Squirrel Project is conducting studies beyond squirrel sex. The group is researching "the importance of food abundance to the ecology and evolution of red squirrels." Red squirrel studies have been conducted since 1987 in the southwest Yukon of Canada. Red squirrels rely on white spruce cones for food, and researchers have found that the changing abundance of the cones has consequences on the ecology and evolution of the squirrels.
Squirrels aren't the only promiscuous animals. A Queen Honeybee will mate with up to forty drones during a single flight. An Elephant Seal who is deemed "beachmaster" will protect female seals, but also impregnate up to 50 females in one season. As for Garter Snakes, they can't even wait their turn, but instead engage in "breeding ball" orgies. In other words, don't judge the red squirrel. She's not the only promiscuous animal out there.