Squirrels are agile, bushy-tailed rodents found all over the world.
Squirrels belong to a large family of small or medium-sized rodents called the Sciuridae.
The family includes tree squirrels, ground squirrels, chipmunks, marmots (including woodchucks), flying squirrels, and prairie dogs.
There are about 285 species of squirrel worldwide.
Squirrels are indigenous to the Americas, Eurasia, and Africa.
Squirrels live on every continent except in Australia and Antarctica.
There are 3 basic groups of squirrels, with each group living within a certain type of habitat.
Tree squirrels live in woodlands and forests in both arid and humid environments. Tree squirrels are the types most commonly recognized, often seen gracefully scampering and leaping from branch to branch.
The second group, flying squirrels, also lives in forests. However, some species of flying squirrels differ from tree squirrels because they prefer forests with large stands of coniferous trees. They live something like birds do, in nests or tree holes. There are 44 species of ‘flying squirrel’. Rather than actually flying, these species glide using a membrane which stretches from their wrists to their ankles.
The last group, the ground squirrels, mostly occupies open land that includes grasslands and tundra. They dig burrows, a system of tunnels underground, to live in.
The smallest is the African pygmy squirrel at 7–10 centimeters (2.8–3.9 inches) in length and just 10 grams (0.35 ounce) in weight.
The largest (by length) is the Indian giant squirrel at 1 meter (39 inches) in length and weighs up to 2 kilograms (4.41 pounds).
The heaviest is Alpine marmot, which is 53–73 cm (21–29 in) long and weighs from 5 to 8 kg (11 to 18 lb).
Adult squirrels can have a lifespan of 5 to 10 years in the wild.
In general, ground-dwelling species are social animals, often living in well-developed colonies, but the tree-dwelling species are more solitary.
Ground and tree squirrels are typically diurnal or crepuscular, while flying squirrels tend to be nocturnal.
Squirrels are predominantly herbivorous. They eat mostly nuts, fruits, and seeds, but they sometimes eat insects, small birds, and other creatures.
The squirrel is an industrious fellow, known for thinking ahead and setting aside food caches to see him through the winter months. He works hard, foraging for food and transporting it for storage, often burying his finds underground to retrieve later in the winter. Tree squirrels and flying squirrels have to carry their food, but the ground squirrel has an advantage: he’s the only squirrel with cheek pouches.
Squirrels are extremely intelligent creatures. They are known to put on elaborate bogus food burying displays to deceive onlookers. The fake burials are to trick potential thieves, such as other squirrels or birds, into thinking that they have stored their food stock there. Any observers planning on taking the stash will then focus on the bogus burial site, allowing the squirrel to bury the real stash elsewhere safely.
Squirrels don’t dig up all of their buried nuts, which results in more trees!
Like other rodents, squirrels have four front teeth that never stop growing so they don’t wear down from the constant gnawing.
As their large eyes indicate, in general squirrels have an excellent sense of vision, which is especially important for tree-dwelling species.
They also have very versatile and sturdy claws for grasping and climbing.
Squirrels communicate with each other through various vocalisations and scent marking. They also use their tails as a signalling device, twitching it when uneasy to alert other squirrels of potential danger.
Squirrels tend to run in erratic paths. This is intended to deceive potential predators as to its chosen direction so that it may escape.
There are many animals that hunt and eat squirrels. Some of the predators that eat squirrels include: badgers, bobcats, cats (feral), coyotes, eagles, falcons, foxes, hawks, lynx, owls, pine martins, raccoon, skunks, snakes, weasels, wolverines, and humans.
Squirrels breed once or twice a year and give birth to two to eight offspring after three to six weeks, depending on species.
Babies are called kits or kittens and are born blind. They depend on their mothers for around two or three months.
After seven to eight weeks, the young are weaned. When the kits leave the nest, they don’t travel farther than 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) from home.
Squirrels are very trusting animals, and are of the very few wild animal species which will eat out of a person’s hand.
Some squirrel species can smell food buried underneath 30 centimeters (1 foot) of snow. They dig tunnels and follow the smell until, eureka! A treasure trove of snacks.
Flying squirrels can glide up to 90 meters (295 feet), making it look like they can fly.
They also can make 180 degree turns during gliding.
The oldest squirrel fossil ever found is the Hesperopetes, which dates back to the late Eocene period. Among rodents, these were most closely related to the mountain beaver and the dormouse.
The squirrel is the Native American symbol for preparation, trust and thriftiness.
That word “squirrel“, first attested in 1327, comes from the Anglo-Norman esquirel which is from the Old French escurel, the reflex of a Latin word sciurus. This Latin word was borrowed from the Ancient Greek word σκίουρος, skiouros, which means shadow-tailed, referring to the bushy appendage possessed by many of its members.