Celebrate Squirrel Appreciation Day with 9 Surprising Facts
This blog is written by guest blogger Ellen Jakubowski.
- Groundhogs and chipmunks are squirrels
“Squirrel” is how we commonly refer to a member of the rodent family Sciuridae. It boasts over 270 species, with more than 20 residing in Canada. These include the Groundhog (Marmota monax) and several species of chipmunks. Squirrel Appreciation Day is recognized every year on January 21st. It was founded by American wildlife rehabilitator Christy Hargrove in 2001.
- Squirrels are good swimmers
Several species including the Eastern Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), Fox Squirrel (S. niger) and American Red Squirrel (Tamiascurus hudsonicus) have been observed swimming up to two kilometres across lakes and rivers.
- Squirrel poop is real
You might not have seen it unless you’ve had squirrels trespass inside your home, but video evidence proves its existence. Squirrel scat is an inconspicuous brown or black colour, cylindrical to round and 3-13 mm long, depending on the species. Look for it where squirrels eat or sleep.
- Squirrels would beat you at an obstacle course
With their svelte bodies, sharp claws, and counterbalancing tails, tree squirrels are masters of manoeuvrability. They have even inspired humans to create elaborate squirrel obstacle courses. Flying squirrels take things one step further by steering themselves through the air with their flat tail and patagia (membranes between their legs).
- Squirrels plant trees
Squirrels are famous for their practice of stashing nuts. They find most of them using a combination of visual cues, memory and smell. They don’t find them all, though, so some grow into new trees. Squirrels play an important role in helping some tree species disperse and regenerate.
- Some grey squirrels are white
Eastern Grey Squirrels are abundant across southeastern Canada, but they’re not always grey – they can also be black or white. Genetic factors control the amount of dark-coloured melanin pigments in their fur. A white squirrel may be either a true albino, with a mutated gene, or simply an unusual variant with no mutation. Canadian white squirrel hotspots include Exeter, Ontario and Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto.
- Flying squirrels make themselves feel at home by rubbing their faces on things
The Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) marks tree branches with scent by rubbing its cheeks against them. Besides being strangely adorable, it seems this behaviour helps it find its way around its home range. It could also be a way of communicating with other members of its species.
- Squirrels eat meat
If you thought squirrels were purely vegan, think again. They’ve been documented to eat eggs, insects, baby birds, other small animals and carrion, particularly when their favourite plant foods are scarce.
- Ground squirrels build their own bedrooms and bathrooms
Richardson’s Ground Squirrels (Spermophilus richardsonii) spend most of their lives underground in a burrow system that can span 10 m horizontally and 1 m vertically. Within this labyrinth, the squirrels typically construct 2-5 grass-lined sleeping chambers as well as a latrine. Just like house-flipping humans, they conduct frequent renovations.
Squirrels are consummate opportunists, just like us. Many species have learned to thrive in habitats that humans have altered considerably. While we may get frustrated with them sometimes, just imagine how lifeless Canada’s urban spaces would be without our most frequently-seen wild mammals.
If you see squirrels in your neighbourhood, be sure to record them with our NatureHood App!