16 things to love about squirrels
Many consider grey squirrels the bane of public parks and in some parts of the world they are a vexing invasive species; homeowners may find them pesky as well. But a new study from the University of Exeter has shown that grey squirrels are actually pretty clever. They are quick learners capable of adapting tactics to improve efficiency and garner the best rewards; and I, for one (and maybe the only one) love sharing my urban neighborhood with them. With that in mind, consider me your one-woman association for the advancement of squirrels in general. Here are just a few of the secrets held by members of the family Sciuridae; I can't really guarantee that you will love each of these facts, as the title prompts, but it can't hurt to know your neighbors.
1. There are more than 200 squirrel species around the world, except Australia. Eastern gray squirrels, like those that punctuate New York City's Central Park, are native to the eastern and midwestern United States, and to the southern parts of Canada's eastern provinces.
2. The smallest squirrel is the African pygmy squirrel and measures in at a wee five inches from nose to tail.
3. On the other hand, the Indian giant squirrel is three feet long. (Actually, that’s kind of intimidating. That's one of them pictured below.)
Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.04. All four front teeth of a squirrel never stop growing; if they did, they would be gnawed down to nothingness.
5. Ground squirrels live on nuts, leaves, roots, seeds, and other plants; but they also catch and consume critters like insects and caterpillars. Tree squirrels scamper about the ground looking for nuts, acorns, berries, and flowers; but they also diversify with bark, eggs, or baby birds.
6. The squirrel gets great use from its tail; uses include balance, shade, protection from rain, use as a blanket and as a rudder when swimming.
7. For some squirrels (just like some fairies), tree sap is a delicacy.
8. Along with ground and tree squirrels, there are flying ones. They live in nests or tree holes, and although they do not actually fly, they cover the sky by gliding, with legs and arms extended as they leap from tree to tree, like rodent superheroes. Because of skin stretched between limbs and torso, their leaping glides can exceed 150 feet.
Audrey/Flickr/CC BY 2.09. Mom squirrels typically give birth to two to eight babies, which are born blind and are completely dependent on their mothers for two or three months. Babes are a wee one-inch long at birth. If you ever find an orphaned or injured baby squirrel, see these Humane Society tips.
10. Some species are able to sniff out food buried beneath a foot of snow; once they lock onto the scent, they will dig a tunnel to secure the treasure.
11. And sometimes that treasure will not be theirs, originally. Squirrels can lose 25 percent of their food to other squirrels!
12. When squirrels flee from predators, they run in a zigzag pattern which is great for escaping from hawks and such; not so great for getting out of the way of cars.
D. Gordon E. Robertson/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.013. Back to the clever part: squirrels practice “deceptive caching.” To throw food robbers off, they pretend to bury a tidbit by digging a hole and covering it up, though they don’t drop in a nut.
14. We can thank squirrels for their help in planting more trees; many of the nuts they fail to recover grow into trees.
15. The cutest squirrel of all of Squirrel Land is surely the Eurasian red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris, pictured top). Unfortunately, however, when gray squirrels made their way to Europe they began overpowering their red cousins for habitat and resources, and now there are, for example, only 140,000 red squirrels left in Britain, with over 2.5 million gray squirrels. I still love the gray squirrels when they stay where they are supposed to be, like where I live in the Northeast, but invasive species, even if they’re cute squirrels, suck.
16. But then again, in the cuteness competition, there's the Japanese dwarf flying squirrel. Oh dear. Who wins?