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What is a Squirrel?

Interested in squirrel facts? Let us learn about squirrels first. Squirrels are a group of small to medium sized rodents. They belong to the family Sciuridae. The family includes ground squirrels, marmots, tree squirrels, chipmunks, etc. 

Squirrels are not just cute and funny, but also amazing. Did you know that they can leap 10 times their length of the body, they have amazing vision, etc.? Read these squirrel facts and we promise your mind will be blown! 

Before we jump to squirrel facts, let us check with the animal classification of squirrels. 

Order Rodentia

Squirrel Facts 1-10

1. The word ‘squirrel’ originated from the Ancient Greek word skiouros meaning shadow-tailed. A group of squirrels is called scurry or dray. 

2. Their size varies with species. They can be as small as plain pygmy squirrels or African pygmy squirrels and can be as big as Bhutan giant flying squirrels. 

3. In general, they can be from 10 to 14 centimeters long to 1.27 meters long. They can weigh from 12 to 26 grams to over 8 kilograms like some marmot species. 

4. They have slender bodies, bushy tails, and big eyes. The fur is soft and the density of fur varies from species to species. 

5. Hind limbs are longer than fore limbs. The paws sometimes have underdeveloped thumbs, have sharp and powerful claws to climb and hold onto things. 

6. They are present in almost every continent except Antarctica. They can live in almost every habitat like tropical forests, temperate forests, semi-arid deserts, etc. However, they avoid deserts and polar regions. 

7. They have vibrissae on their head and limbs, and hence, have great sense of touch. They have an amazing sense of sight. 

8. The teeth of squirrels follow the teeth pattern of rodents. They have large incisors or front teeth. They keep growing for their entire life. 

9. There is a gap after the incisors, and then there are other teeth useful for grinding. 

10. Squirrels are herbivores. They cannot digest cellulose, and hence, must depend on foods that are rich in fats, carbohydrates, and protein

Squirrel Facts 11-20

11. Early spring is the hardest time for them, because the seeds that they sow start to sprout. It leads to food shortage. So they depend on the buds of trees. 

12. They eat seeds, nuts, conifer cones, fungi, fruits, green vegetation, etc. 

13. However some squirrel species eat meat when there is acute food shortage. They can eat small young birds, small snakes, insects, bird eggs, etc. 

14. Some of the species of squirrels in tropical climates have become carnivores completely. 

15. Squirrels blend very well with urban environments and interact with humans. 

16. Predatory behavior is seen sometimes in squirrels. A group of black squirrels have been caught killing and eating a large stray dog in Russia’s Lazo! They even kill snakes, chicken, etc. 

17. They become sexually mature by the end of their first year. They mate once or twice a year. The gestation period lasts for around three to six weeks. 

18. The number of offspring varies from species to species. The offspring are not fully developed at the time of birth, are naked, blind, and toothless.

19. Usually mothers look after the offspring. They are weaned at six to ten weeks of age. 

20. Ground-dwelling squirrel species are mostly social whereas tree-dwelling squirrel species are mostly solitary in nature. 

Squirrel Facts 21-30

21. Ground squirrels are generally either crepuscular (active during dawn and dusk) or active during the day. However, flying squirrels are generally active during the night. 

22. Many baby squirrels die in their first year. The adults have a lifespan of 5 to 10 years in the wild and the captive ones have a lifespan of 10 to 20 years. 

23. The bushy tail is useful for various reasons. Some of them are as follows:

  • Acts as a parachute while jumping.
  • Acts as a counterbalance while jumping. 
  • To keep rain, wind, or cold off the body.
  • To cool when feeling hot. 
  • For signalling. 

24. They can find food that is buried beneath one foot of snow. 

25. Squirrels lose 25% of their underground or buried food to thieves that too from their own species! 

26. When they feel threatened, they run in a zig-zag pattern. It is useful for natural predators like eagles, hawks, etc. 

27. They have been caught digging a burrow, but not placing a nut. Scientists assume that they do this (deceptive caching) to thwart off any potential thieves. 

28. An offspring of squirrels is just one inch long. They are intelligent, adaptable, and acrobatic. 

29. They increase weight to stay warm during the winter months. 

30. They can run at a speed of 20 miles per hour, but most of the squirrels run at a speed of 10 miles per hour. They can leap up to 20 feet high.  

Squirrel Facts 31-40

31. They are good at navigation. They can find out alternative paths to food and can even discover shortcuts. 

32. There are 250 species of squirrels spanning across 50 genera. They are native to every continent except Australia and Antarctica. 

33. Squirrels communicate using tail movements and chirps. Studies also proved that they watch and learn from others, especially the art of stealing. 

34. Flying squirrels don’t fly. They glide. Some of them can glide the length of a soccer field (around 45 meters or 150 feet, or even 90 meters or 300 feet). 

35. Did you know that there are all white and all black squirrels in nature? These are generally either fox squirrels or gray squirrels. 

Black squirrels that are the result of melinism. White squirrels are the result of leucism. Places like Brevard, North Carolina experience a high ratio of white squirrels. 

36. According to a 2010 study, some squirrels chew on rattlesnake’s discarded skin and lick their fur to give the smell of rattlesnake. This wards off smell dependent predators. 

37. Not all squirrel species hibernate – only some hibernate. 

38. Squirrel species like eastern gray squirrels have become invasive species in Europe especially the United Kingdom. They threaten smaller red squirrels which are native to the UK. 

Squirrels are also invasive to Australia, which has no native squirrel species. 

39. By the mid-19th century, tree squirrels became nearly extinct in the USA. In 1847, Philadelphia saw the first reintroduction of squirrels in the environment. Other places followed suit. Central Park was home to over 1,500 gray squirrels by 1880. 

40. The US electrical grid experiences a great threat by squirrels. They caused hundreds of power disruptions in the USA. They were the cause of the shut down of NASDAQ stock market in 1987 and 1994.

Squirrel Facts 41-50

41. In 2007, Iran claimed that 14 squirrels found near the borders were spies!

42. The biggest squirrel is the Indian giant squirrel, and the smallest is the African pygmy squirrel. 

43. The nests of squirrels are called dreys.

44. The tufted ground squirrel has a tail which is 130% the size of the whole body. It is found in Borneo. 

45. In the 1700s, squirrels were the most famous pet animals in the United States of America. Warren G. Harding had a squirrel pet named Pete. 

46. When squirrels hibernate, the temperature of the body decreases significantly. In such cold temperatures, the brain cells undergo some cellular changes that help in regulation of blood flow. 

Researchers are now trying to create a drug that can mimic the same process in the human brain. It will help in preventing human brain cells from dying when there is shortage of blood flow due to ischemic stroke. 

47. They are one of the few mammals who can get down a tree with head-first. 

48. The only warm-blooded mammal to bear body temperature below freezing during hibernation is the arctic ground squirrel. This species is native to the Arctic region. 

49. In 2013, authorities of Los Angeles National Forest closed down the national forest, because they found some infected squirrels. 

The infection killed a 15-year-old boy from Kyrgyzstan. Over a hundred people were quarantined to contain the spread of the infection. 

50. Washington’s Longview city has a bridge called Nutty Narrows bridge. The city is called the ‘squirrel-lovers capital of America’ because of the bridge. It was constructed during the 1960s and opened in 1963. The city now holds an annual Squirrel Fest in August. 


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