Squirrels aren’t always popular, especially amongst bird-lovers; their dogged determination to rob feeders is legendary! But squirrels are a valuable and important element of woodland life, and more amazing than you might first assume.
Here’s 10 things that make squirrels amazing:
As anyone who’s ever watched a squirrel scurrying up and down a tree knows, squirrels have astonishing agility. This is in part due to their super-flexible ankles which can turn 180 degrees, enabling them to race head-first down a tree or post. Their sharp and sturdy claws mean they can grip and climb at speed. And its this agility that helps them raid bird-feeders!
Squirrels are known for their intelligence. They often engage in ‘deceptive caching’, the practice of pretending to bury food in order to fool other squirrels or animals who may raid their stash. They also communicate with each other in a variety of ways. Tail-twitching signals uneasiness, letting other squirrels know that a predator may be near. A variety of vocalisations are also common, as well as scent-marking. They also exhibit good problem-solving skills, as many people watching them break into bird-feeders will testify!
Squirrels are solitary and territorial animals, so this may not be the first trait we associate with these creatures, but its been discovered that squirrels are surprisingly compassionate when it comes to their young. Squirrels will often ‘adopt’ abandoned or lost baby squirrels, if they are part of their own family group, ie, a female may ‘adopt’ if she scents that the lost baby is a niece or nephew.
Sense of smell
Most creatures have a better sense of smell that humans can imagine, but squirrels have the ability to smell food from beneath up to a foot of snow! This is an important skill for squirrels, who don’t hibernate through the winter but instead deliberately gain weight in order to survive the cold.
Baby squirrels, also known as kits or pups, are among some of the most adorable animals you’ll ever see.
A squirrel’s life is not easy. The woods can be cold, food availability can vary, and there are multiple predators. But despite the hardship of their lives, wild squirrels can live up to 10 years. Squirrels in captivity can survive up to 20 years.
They contribute to the growth of new trees
Like secret forest rangers, squirrels actually contribute to the growth of new forestry. Admittedly, this is largely accidental as they forget to collect from all of their food stores, but its still a great reason to love squirrels.
Squirrels build nests, known as ‘dreys’. These are usually high up in trees to ensure safety and about the size of a football and lined with various materials to provide warmth and comfort. Feathers, moss and grass are often utilised to offer insulation.
They can be very trusting
Although often skittish, there are many squirrels which have exhibited trusting behaviour. Some will even feed from human hands, although as their teeth are sharp all squirrels should be fed with caution!
Like many rodents, squirrels have teeth which grow all their lives. This enables them to keep gnawing, an important skill for cracking open nuts. Squirrels use their teeth in a variety of ways – for sensing texture and hardness, obviously, but more astonishing is their ability to sense temperature through their teeth! Squirrels don’t just use their teeth for gnawing, they also play-fight and wrestle, gently ‘chewing’ one another without even breaking the skin.
With Winter just around the corner, this is the ideal time to get out into the woods and see these amazing little creatures for yourself. Squirrels tend to live in all kinds of natural spaces – woodland, parks and even gardens – so there’s a good chance you’ll see them making their Winter preparations.