Warning: Some of these photos might be upsetting, read on at your own risk.
From time to time I see badly injured red squirrels, like this one, which actually seemed to be carrying on as usual despite the loss of one eye:
I have no way of knowing what did it, and I have tended to assume it was a fox.
But if you watch the squirrels closely their squabbles can get pretty aggressive. They are very short sharp encounters, over in a second or so, and very hard to photograph. Look at these two squaring off:
And then admire this karate kick, exactly one second later:
It is not hard to imagine a kick like that taking out an eye, especially given those claws:
Or a good kick could take out an ear: this squirrel has the equivalent of a boxer’s cauliflower ear from some old injury:
This one has injured a finger in a fight:
The squirrel with the eye injury has now been attacked again and has what look like even worse injuries, although it was running around and eating as if it were unscathed.
Defending yourself with only one eye must put you at a significant disadvantage against a predator, or indeed in fights like these.
“Red in tooth and claw” does seem pretty appropriate. And just so you know, I googled the source of this phrase, and it comes not from Shakespeare, but from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam A. H. H., 1850.
Sidebar! I once had a run-in with my son’s third grade teacher, who sent him home with a poem to memorize, written by a certain Alfred Lloyd Tennyson ……