Whether you live on a Fairgrove Township farm or in a downtown Detroit duplex, odds are you encounter squirrels on a regular basis. These members of the family Sciuridae – a tribe of small- and medium-size rodents that includes chipmunks and prairie dogs – are extremely curious, and often find their way into unideal places including garbage cans, roofing and even equipment across the energy grid, sometimes causing interference and power outages.
While focusing on the misdeeds – at least those perceived by humans – of these rascally rodents is an easy task, in this post, we will not disparage the names of our furry friends by focusing on their first-world faux pas. That’s because (as almost nobody is aware,) it’s National Squirrel Appreciation Day, a time to celebrate more than 200 species of squirrels – particularly the five species that reside in Michigan – and a life-saving science lesson they teach every day.
Schooling us with science
Some of the most common wildlife-related questions our crews get involve animals on power lines, and why squirrels and other critters aren’t toasted when they walk across the high-voltage, potentially deadly tightropes that line our communities. For some perspective, let’s take a brief look at how electricity travels from place to place.
Electricity will always travel the path of least resistance between two points unless it’s blocked by a non-conducting material. When squirrels walk on power lines, electricity would not travel from one end of the wire to the other faster by traveling through the squirrel, so the electricity and squirrel both continue on their paths. However, if the squirrel touches a piece of grounded equipment (like a transformer mounted on a utility pole) or another wire with a different electric potential, its body will assume the role of electrical conductor – something that transmits electricity – allowing the electricity to pass through it to its final destination, ultimately bringing the charred squirrel to its final destination.
Why knowing this info could save your life and/or the lives of others
Since humans are almost always in contact with the ground (grounded) and ready electrical conductors, there’s an extremely important and potentially life-saving lesson to learn here. Always stay at least 20 feet away from power lines and anything they may come in contact with to avoid becoming a conductor, and a statistic, yourself. And be sure to educate your friends and family members to do the same. Keep in mind that, water/puddles and other materials, like metal fences, make great electric conductors, so if they are in contact with a power line, touching them can be just as deadly as touching a wire itself.
Whether a power line is running between utility poles or dangling from a pole due to a storm or another type of damage or interference, it can kill you. Remember: not all downed power lines arc, spark, smoke or buzz, so never touch or attempt to move one with your hands or any object. If you do, your body will become an electric conductor, and you’ll be severely injured or killed.
Small but deadly: be mindful of your service drop, too.
Sometimes, squirrels and other animals will move across your service drop – the smaller wire that connects your home to the energy grid – as well. It’s important to note this wire, which is connected to overhead distribution lines, delivers electricity to your entire home. A single electrical outlet in your home delivers enough electricity to kill you, so the same rules that apply to pole-to-pole distribution lines apply to your service drop as well.
And since service drops hang lower to the ground to bring power from the energy grid down to your home, be especially mindful of its presence and the length of objects you may be transporting or carrying, such as ladders, pool skimmers, etc., as touching a service drop with them can be fatal.
Interested in learning more about how to be safe around electricity? Click here.
More reasons to appreciate squirrels.