Squirrel: Diet, Habits Plus 20 Fun Facts You Never Know

The American gray squirrel is holding legs to his chest.

Swinging from branch to branch, squirrels are one of the most commonly found animals on the planet earth. These innocent faced tiny creatures are abundantly found in all parts of the world.

Basic information about squirrels

Squirrels belong to the family of rodents who is characterized by their bushy tails and the nimbleness. Their biological classification includes them in the family of Sciuridae that also includes prairie dogs, marmots, and the chipmunks. There are more than 200 species of squirrels and are further classified into three fundamental divisions namely ground squirrels, flying squirrels and the tree squirrels. The famous species is abundantly found in various parts of the world regardless of the terrain and the weather conditions. Most renowned are the  Albino, Antelope, Mountain Tree, American Red, Spotted, Douglas, Grey, Fox, Northern Flying, Pygmy, Southern, Northern Flying, Arizona Gray, Arctic Ground, Idaho, Albert’s, Franklin, Rock, Richardson, White and Black squirrel.

1. Appearance and size

Every squirrel has different size.  The smallest among these is the African pygmy squirrel that measures from 7 to 13 centimeters in length and merely weighs 10 grams. The largest is one meter long Indian giant squirrel. It is heavier than the pygmy and weighs 1.8 kilograms.

Squirrels have a unique physical appearance. Their bodies are slender covered with soft and silky fur. They have long bushy tails and the large sparkling eyes. Some squirrels have even extra thick fur covering their bodies. Like other features, their colors also vary. They have four limbs with the longer set at the back and the shorter in the front. Each limb has paws with four to five toes attached to it. Their toes have thumbs, but they are not well developed. They come down the tree by rotating the ankle at an angle of 180 degrees. By doing so, the hind paws direct in the backward direction and easily get hold of the tree.

2. Food and eating habit

Squirrels usually eat the food that has a larger proportion of the proteins, fats and the carbohydrates. Their digestive system does not work when it comes to digesting the cellulose-rich foods. In spring when the sprouting begins they change their eating habits and switch to eating the buds of the trees.  Major components of the food include seeds, nuts, conifers, fungi, fruits, and all kinds of green vegetation. Some of the squirrels are also omnivores and feed on meat too. Insects, eggs, small birds, young snakes, and smaller rodents are also included in their meal.

【Read more about Rodents】

3. Habitat and distribution

As we know, squirrels are found abundantly in all parts of the world but mostly prefer to reside in the areas that have the climatic conditions similar to those of the tropical rainforest and the semi-arid desert. The only parts of the world where their existence is almost negligible includes the Polar Regions and the deserts.

4. Behavior

Squirrels love to live in the areas of thick forests. Their primary source of nutrition is the nuts and the seeds that they can easily get from the trees. They live in the nests that are made out of the twigs and the leaves. These nests rest on the high places which are either the trees or the tall buildings. The squirrel nests are known as the dreys. The squirrels also make temporary living shelters in the tree trunks. The ground squirrels prefer to live in the burrows.

Squirrels are by nature territorial animals. They are restless in the mating season and make annoying sounds. The species usually breed two times in the year. They love to occupy vast territories under their control which can extend up to an area of 10 hectares. These animals use their urine to mark their territory and are extremely defensive about their territory. They get furious when any intruder even passes by their territory. They growl out loud to keep them at a distance. Except for the gray squirrel, most of them like to live in groups.

5. Life cycle and offspring

The squirrel mating starts in winter when the restless males start running after the females. The mating strength of a female is lower than the male. The males have the tendency to mate anytime while the females can only do it twice in a year. Once the mating session completes, the males have nothing to do with the bringing up of the young. The females, on the other hand, prepare the nests by lining them with the soft materials. The preparations are made in the winters and deliver the young one six weeks after the mating. The young ones are born in the months of March and April and then in the mid-year months. A female can deliver minimum one or max nine babies at one time. However, an average litter has three children.

6. Baby squirrels

Once the baby is born, it is important to keep them clean. The mother does this task. The babies are born without eyesight. The mother stays close to these helpless creatures and keeps cleaning them by suckling weeks after she gives birth to the young one. The children’s body gets the fur in few weeks. After completing seven months of their life, they become able to come out of their dreys and follow their mothers. At ten weeks the teeth become active enough to chew the solid foods. This is the time when they give up suckling completely. After one month they grow independent and make a drey of their own.  In these early days of separation from the parents, they avoid the crowded areas.

20 fun facts about squirrel

Squirrels are the cute, furry dwellers of the high trees. These rodents are not merely bush-tail animals that can run around on the trees, but they are much more than this they have the quality of being extremely intelligent and acrobatic. They are friendly in nature and often harmless. Some fun facts about squirrels that make them really interesting animals are:

  1. In Greek dictionary, the meanings of the word squirrel are ‘shadow tail.’
  2. Squirrels are believed to be the far-sighted animals. They are known for the attributes of storing the necessary food for the winters when it is not possible to get the nuts and the acorns due to the temperature dropping.
  3. The fur of the North European red squirrels is a treat for those who want to add fashion accessories made out of the animal fur.
  4. A male squirrel has exceptional olfactory senses that can help them trace the females even from miles away.
  5. The squirrels usually mate in the months between February to May and give birth to two or four young ones after the gestation period of the 44-day.
  6. They have sharp toes on the front feet, four in number and help them get hold of the tree bark while climbing. Unlike the front one, the back feet have five toes.
  7. The gray squirrels are usually found in the Eastern US, Western States, United Kingdom, Ireland and South Africa.
  8. 285 different species of the squirrels can be seen all around the globe except in Antarctica and Australia.
  9. Squirrels have the characteristics of eating their weight i.e. 1.5 pounds. This happens every week.
  10. Squirrels do not get hurt even if they fall from a height of 30 meters.
  11. Their tail works like a parachute when they jump down and thus helps them to maintain their balance when they fall.
  12. An arctic ground squirrel is the only species that finds its ancestor in Arctic. They are warm blooded and can easily fight back the freezing temperature.
  13. Squirrels can easily see behind them because of the unique positioning of their eyes.
  14. They make great spies. The best example, often quoted in this regard is that of 2007 when Iranian security agencies caught 14 squirrels near their border which were spying for the other side of the border.
  15. If they come across any obstruction or barrier in the way of the food, they can easily navigate through the barriers and reach the food. This is because of high levels of the intelligence.
  16. Due to the extra-long and strong hind legs and comparatively shorter front legs, they can easily jump a distance of 20 feet.
  17. In 2005 instead of the CGI squirrels, actual squirrels were cast. They went through an extensive training of 19 weeks under the supervision of The Nut Room Animal trainer Michael Alexander.
  18. In 1963, in the city of Longview, Washington, an 18-meter long bridge was constructed named Nutty Narrows. It is known for the annual squirrel festival.
  19. Squirrels can easily run at a speed of 20 miles per hour.
  20. Squirrels use various sounds to connect with the other squirrels. If they feel a danger around them, they use their tails to signal the other.

Squirrel family

Squirrels of all types are the members of the family called Sciuridae. This family has 50 genera and 268 species of rodents. The rodent family gets its name from the Greek word skiouros that mean bushy tail. These bushy tails are no doubt a remarkable feature of these small mammals. There is no particular habitat for the squirrels for survival. The squirrels can survive easily in an arena where the temperature is not in the lower degrees and have plenty of vegetation. Ground squirrels, marmots, chipmunks, prairie dogs and the flying squirrels are the most distinguished members of this rodent family. There are 122 species of the tree squirrels that are the most commonly existing squirrels. They belong to the subfamily Sciuridae.

The gray squirrels that are often seen in the North American region cause a lot of disturbance and problems for the populations of the urban and the suburban areas. Of the squirrel family, there are two subfamilies, 272 species and 51 genera that are found all over the world. Just the subfamily of the flying squirrels has 42 species and 15 genera.

The ability to reach the vertical heights varies in squirrel families. The overall population of the squirrels shows that they are diurnal and arboreal. The squirrels like Oriental giant squirrels and the African giant squirrels do not come down from the high trees habitually. Some squirrel species like the pygmy squirrel of Sulawesi love to stay at the middle-level heights. They make their nests neither too high nor too low. They can easily come down the trees. The long-legged species of the squirrels known as the African palm squirrels are often found on the ground.

Squirrels like the red-tailed squirrel from the American tropics and the African pygmy squirrel can run up and down across the height of the trees very comfortably. Eastern Fox Squirrel is also the resident of American forests and loves to jump and leap from one tree to another by staying closer to the ground level. Some squirrels have the ability to swim across the waters like the Eastern gray squirrel. Compared to this species that swims with head above the water level, Thomas’s rope squirrel can comfortably swim under the water too. These features make squirrel family a fascinating kind of animal dwelling on our globe.

Conservation status

The term conservation status means that the indicator that represents the possibility of survival of a particular animal in the world. It is used to determine the extent to which the animal is in danger.  With the growing environmental threats, many animals on the globe are facing the risk of going extinct in the near future.  In these dangerous conditions for the wildlife, The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is considered as the most reliable and the official listing of the conservation status of several animals. The list distributes all the species into nine categories that mainly include Critically Endangered, Endangered, and Vulnerable animals. According to this list, the number of the squirrels fall into the category of the animals that are either endangered or vulnerable.

Eradication of the non-native North American gray squirrel that began in January 1998 on the North Wales island of Anglesey was a real challenge for those who were concerned about the safety of the grays. This compelled the wildlife freaks to think about the conservation of the red furry creatures in this region and the other parts of the world. As the situation became grave several species of the said squirrel group were reintroduced into pine stands of the New borough Forest. Because of these regular recovery efforts today the island of Wales is known for having the maximum number of the red squirrels.

So far red squirrel is considered to be one of the most endangered species surviving on the globe. A local program was initiated with the title “North East Scotland Biodiversity Partnership” to counter the decreasing number of the squirrels, this program was launched under the National Biodiversity Action Plan that was founded in the mid-1990s. The main target region under this plan was the Banchory and Cults areas. Just after 12 years, in 2008, a four-year project was introduced by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. When the project started in the year 2009, it was known as “Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels.”

Finally, projects are running all over the world to conserve this red beauty of the squirrel. These projects include red squirrel projects in the Greenfield Forest, the Northumberland Kielder Forest Project; and the National Trust reserve in Formby.

Flying squirrels are among the rodents that are abundantly found all over the globe. It is nocturnal in nature; therefore it is hard to see them in daily routine. The two subspecies of this category are the most endangered ones and are enlisted by the government agencies as the principal victims of the habitat loss.

Squirrel damage and control

The damage

These cute, furry creatures are a real nuisance and a big challenge for the plantations and the domestic life.  The squirrels are a real menace for the trees that are grown commercially. They eat up tree barks, especially on the branches. This weakens the trees. Besides this, they eat up their fruits and the seeds too, which leaves adverse effects on the business of seeds and orchards. In urban areas where there is a limited plantation, the destruction of the trees by the squirrels is comparatively less, but they are a big problem for the people living there by. These squirrels lead to the destruction of the electricity network by chewing away the electrical wires with the sharp teeth. These can go on the short out transformers and can weaken the domestic sidings and wooden structures by chewing them ruthlessly. In severe cases, the repair does not work, and the homeowners have to consider for a complete replacement. Such damages are worth much money. It is not a difficult task for a speedy squirrel to reach the electricity system installed in the home. The ultimate aftermath is the damage to the temperature control system.

The lush green lawns planted with great love and cares are also not safe from their reach. Squirrels can transform them into an unfortunate thing by digging burrows in the land and eating away all the green grass. These species also use the deep holes to hide their nutty foods. They love easy to access garden fruits and the trees. The agricultural field where corn is planted is their favorite target. The people who keep birds as pets or install the bird feeders in their areas must be careful as they can be harmful to these feeders.

With squirrels present around your living area, it often becomes difficult to have a sound sleep after a hectic day. The attic is their favorite place to stay in. These animals do not stay there quietly and keep making annoying sounds that result in the psychological problems leading to anxiety and stress due to a fitful sleep. The activity timings of different squirrels are different. Some of them are active in the day bothering in the morning home chores like the tree squirrels, while the nocturnal squirrels are active at night.

Prevention and control

It is highly important to control the squirrel control at the earliest before it becomes a real challenge. Some easy to do actions to prevent the squirrel damage is as follows:

  • To keep the squirrels away from the isolated trees and the electrical poles, it is recommended to place a collar made of metal. The collar should not be less than 61 cm wide to facilitate the growth of the tree. The metal collar is attached with the help of the springs.
  • Wrap lightweight plastic pipes around the wires. This will prevent them from walking on the wire. The circular surface of these pipes makes it difficult for the squirrels to keep their balance.
  • Cover all the openings leading to the attic and the other parts of the building, but make sure that they do not get stuck in the building. If they do not find any outlet, they can be dangerous. Place the squirrel traps near the openings that are left open. If they keep entering it is recommended to keep one door open to let them run away. A pipe can also be used as the excluder.
  • Wire meshes are great to choke the openings leading into the building. The meshes can be customized by adding the electrified wires o them; this is effective in keeping away the squirrels from causing the damage to the gardens and the orchards.
  • Don’t plant trees close to buildings. The average distance between the trees and the buildings should not be less than 8 feet. This will prevent them from reaching the attic, roofs, etc.
  • Get an alternative feeding source in the backyard to stop them from damaging the bird feeders. A wire can also be added to the fence post.
  • It is better to remove the tree plantations around the crop area, or the orchard to keep the squirrels away from these regions.
  • Repellents like Naphthalene can be a great solution to keep the squirrels away from the attics, buildings, and closed locations. The strong smell prevents them from entering into the closed places. If the house owner does not feel comfortable with these strong smells, cats are a great option to keep these tiny creatures away.
  • Taste repellents are becoming common these days too. They can be used to cover the seeds, bulbs, flowers; trees, shrubs; poles, fences, siding and outdoor furniture.
  • Sticky materials like Polybutenes are smeared on the surfaces that can be under attack by the squirrels. Although it is a messy way, it is very efficient to keep them at a distance.
  • Instead of using the chemical things, it is recommended to add traps in the areas where there are a number of squirrels bothering your routine. This is considered as an environment-friendly thing because once the squirrels are caught, they can be handed over to the Animal Control officers.
  • In some places, it is legally permitted to shoot a squirrel that is bothering you, but in many areas, it is strictly prohibited. Check with the rules and regulations and decide your action plan accordingly. Make sure not to indulge yourself in any illegal activity.
  • There are several options available to keep the squirrels away. Sometimes a combination of the processes is required to overcome this menace. Looking at the behavior of the squirrel and opting the best combo can help prevent the squirrels from entering into your territory. Once their entry and exit patterns are clear, you can block their paths with the traps, or repellents, or some wired closing. This can be an effective way to keep them at lengths.
  • Stopping these intruders is more difficult in open areas especially the lawns, fields, and orchards. The suggested way is to shoot with as sedative and hand over to the animal control officer.
Share it...