SQUIRRELS

 

Characteristics

Size: The size of squirrels varies by species. The African pygmy squirrel is the smallest, measuring only 5 inches in length. The Indian giant squirrel measures 3 feet long, tripling the size of the common backyard variety, which only measures around 8 to 12 inches in length from nose to tail.

Color: Color can vary from reddish-brown to light gray, depending on species.

Behavior: Squirrels are found all around the world, except in the Southern region of South America and oddly enough, Australia. In all, there are around 280 species of squirrels, all of which can be separated by three distinct body types that are either perfect for digging, climbing or gliding through the air.

These common backyard inhabitants have four front teeth that are perfect for gnawing away at food and objects. These teeth never stop growing, so they will never wear down. This is helpful for this furry mammal, whose diet includes nuts, seeds, fruits, insects, leaves, young birds, eggs and fungi, but can be harmful for your property. The most recognizable aspect of a squirrel’s diet is how much food they can fit inside their cheeks, which is then usually taken back for storage in nests and burrows.

This storage comes in handy during winter hibernation, a common practice among many squirrels who live in temperate regions. They let their body temperature drop to right above freezing, so that they can slow their body functions and thus, limit their need for food. Even in the desert, these animals can hibernate (though it’s called aestivation since it’s used during extreme heat and droughts rather than the winter).

Since these animals live just about everywhere, different species have adapted to their individual environments. From tropical forests to dry deserts, to rolling green hills to your backyard, their body types help them find food and stay safe from predators in their particular environment.

Tree squirrels are what people most commonly see in their backyards and city parks. This body type is suited for climbing trees quickly. This skill helps them scurry to safety, away from predators, even if they are down at ground level foraging for acorns, nuts and berries. In the trees, some species will eat bird eggs, baby birds, tree bark and tree sap. They are identifiable by their long ears, bushy tails, sharp claws and ability to hop from branch to branch without missing a beat.

Ground squirrels live in underground burrows, sometimes with intricate tunnel systems. These robust rodents are excellent diggers, using this skill to not only build homes, but to search for the roots, nuts, seeds and plants they love to eat. They can also scrounge up caterpillars and small insects, but are tasty prey themselves. They have almost no natural defense except to run down a hole, or when in groups, to whistle to each other and let others know danger is approaching.

Contrary to their name, flying squirrels can’t achieve true flight (i.e., they can’t fly like birds can). Instead, these flying rodents have a stretchy flap of skin that connects their arms to their legs. This wing-like flap helps them glide from tree to tree. They simply jump from the tree, extend their arms and legs, and coast through the air as far as 150 feet, sometimes more. These flying rodents live in tree holes or nests, much like birds. They eat fruits, nuts, insects and baby birds.

Females typically birth between two and eight offspring per litter. The babies completely rely on their mothers for two to three months after birth, especially since they are born blind. One single female can give birth to several litters each year, which is why a squirrel population can quickly grow out of control and become problematic. To reduce population growth, limit potential habitats.

To protect trees, use sheet metal to create a 2-foot wide band around the trunk of tree, about 6 feet off of the ground. In garden beds, place chicken wire over the soil. If you are struggling with pests indoors, contact a pest management professional to learn about more options.