02:42 PM ET 09/11/98

Florida squirrels acting nutty

	    MIAMI (Reuters) - Florida wildlife officers have been
besieged recently with calls from animal lovers worried that the
state's bushy-tailed residents are acting, well, squirrelly.
	    Squirrels across Florida have been rolling on the ground,
banging their bodies on things and growing odd lumps, prompting
the calls to the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission,
Rick Horton, a biologist with the commission, said Friday.
	    ``A lot of people in urban areas have got squirrels around
and they watch them and they notice them and they start seeing
these lumps,'' he said. ``And they wonder what's wrong with my
squirrels? Do they have cancer?''
	    The problem is not cancer, and it is not life-threatening.
The squirrels are infested with bot fly larvae, worm-like baby
bugs the size of a human thumb, that grow beneath their skin.
	    Once under the skin, the larvae form large, irritating
bumps, prompting the squirrels' rolling and banging, Horton
said. The larvae pose no threat to humans.
	    ``It's a natural phenomenon ... It's just a parasite-host
relationship that has always occurred,'' Horton said.
	    The larvae proliferate in squirrels and other small furry
animals such as rabbits in the late summer and early autumn,
which is when the flies lay their eggs.
	    When the laying cycle is over, the problem will go away.
	    Horton said his office had received so many calls that he
decided to issue a news release to assure the public that
neither the squirrels nor people were in danger.
	    ``We figure that for every five people that take the time to
call and ask about it, there are probably 25 out there that
didn't take the time,'' he said.

The squirrels here in Florida now seem to be recovering successfully. The ones I've observed were eating grass, probably to fight the evil infestation.