Haven’t you? If you ever met these sweet little creatures, than you will understand why I am so impressed and waiting every single moment for a chance to meet them. However, do not forget to prepare a package of walnuts before going for a chase after squirrels!
What do we know about squirrels: squirrels are quick, bushy-tailed rodents found all over the world. They belong to the Sciuridae family, which includes prairie dogs, chipmunks and marmots. There are more than 200 species of squirrels, according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), and they are categorized into three types: tree squirrels, ground squirrels and flying squirrels. Squirrels live mostly in forests; however, nowadays some species do not mind staying in parks and countryside. In one of such park I met them. Firstly, I was just watching them on a distance, but then I became brave and brought walnuts. What do you think, rodents were suspicious in the beginning, but empty stomachs got the best. And from that time I started to study them and enjoy their company every free minute I have. They are amazing and very funny; I couldn’t stop watching how they eat nuts, hide them and jump from one branch to another. Every day I discover something new about them.
First of all, sweet cuties can be of different size and colors. In my life I saw mostly gray, red and black ones; all of them are of a small size. The smallest is the African pygmy squirrel which is tiny at around 10 cm long, whereas the largest, the Indian giant squirrel is a massive three feet long. There is a worldwide believe that my little friends mostly like eating nuts, but not only them. At once I saw how my little tailed friend ate bread, yeah, can you imagine that? She/he found an old piece of moldy bread that was on the ground and started to eat it, I hardly believed it. So, everything squirrels can find in the forest can be part of her daily menu: different seeds, grains, buds, branches, berries, mushrooms, and certainly content of coniferous tree cones. They can eat 100-150 cones per day. Personally I adore looking after their food habits. Sweet cuties can be messy when they eat, usually pieces of nuts are hanging on their mustache and falling from a tree, so look upwards when you are walking under large trees. The interesting is the process of cracking a nut by a squirrel. While quickly turning a nut in her forelegs my cute gnaws a small hole in it from that side where there is a sharp tip, and then she puts her lower front teeth in it. The trick is that squirrels like many other rodents have special lower jaw consisting of two halves joined with elastic muscle. When a squirrel pulls them together, her teeth go separate ways and act as a wedge – a nut opens in halves. This is the most amazing when a squirrel takes one half of the nut and starts “digging out” the nut itself, while the second half is next to her or sometimes in her hands. While chewing she/he splits out inedible part of the nut…phew…phew, so be careful, and don’t stay too close… kidding! After every meal my little friends wash themselves, they like to be clean and tidy. You may ask me what they drink, as I noticed in winter season when there is snow they eat snow on trees, sometimes I saw how they suck in the tree bark. As I read from Wildlife Encyclopedia the front teeth of squirrels grow continuously at the roots, and common belief holds that their habit of chewing objects other than food is necessary to keep the teeth worn down to normal length. Moreover, I have to mention one more interesting fact about my friends: they do store food, they are very prudent. They usually do not have big storehouses as you may imagine, but they bury nuts in the ground or in a hollow tree. It carries the walnut in its mouth, stops at a chosen place, digs a hole with a quick action of forefeet, just deep enough to take the nut, and then buries it by pushing back the earth with forefeet. Meanwhile, it is said that squirrels have bad memory and they usually forget where they buried food, which makes these little creatures very useful for nature.
Secondly, squirrels communicate with each other through various vocalizations and scent marking. They also use their tails as a signaling device, twitching it when uneasy to alert other squirrels of potential danger. When a squirrel is scared and feels that it is in danger, it will at first remain motionless. If it is on the ground, it will run to a nearby tree and climb to safety. Several times I was a witness of their special sounds; I have no idea whether it was an alert signal or just a way of communication. I recognized that they are not so found of you watching them eating, it seems they are pretty shy or just afraid that you may take their food. Almost every of them have its own character and specific features, for example, one of my friend’s ears is a bit bended in unusual manner, which makes him different from others at once.
In addition, squirrels live in a nuclear family with no connection to kin. Female and male squirrels live separately and are hardly differentiated. Only by turning them over can you see the physical difference between males and females. If you see nothing, the squirrel is female. And as you may guess nobody has a chance to check whether your little friend is a girl or boy. At once accidentally I found out who was who, but that’s my secret. Once you see an adult squirrel accompanied by baby squirrels, the adult is female. Male squirrels take no interest in children and move out of the home nest until the children leave. Male squirrels spend even more time for cleaning themselves; in fact, squirrels are one of the cleanest rodents. In late summer and early fall you might see the squirrel mating ritual, they are chasing each other.
Finally, I can talk about my sweet friends endlessly and study them, but there will be always something mysterious and unknown for me. As soon as I find out something new, I will share with you. In case you have your own stories and experience, please write me, I look forward to hearing from any of you. Stay in touch!