Squirrel Facts

Alleah

Alleah

Published: 12 Aug 2021

Modified: 18 Nov 2021

Squirrel Facts

For years, we have seen squirrels scattering around in parks and other places. Some even mistake them for rats. But did you know that squirrels are becoming more relevant in society? More people are learning squirrel facts after realizing how much squirrels help the environment. 

Their most significant contribution to the forest is shaping plant composition. Squirrels bury seeds in the forest. These animals bury them all over the forest, and when they go back to look for them, they forget where they put them! When that happens, they are actually planting seeds, which over time, changes the composition of the forest, expanding the forest, changing the types of trees there. People love squirrels so much now, they even have their own appreciation day. National Squirrel Appreciation Day is celebrated on January 21.

But where did these creatures come from? And how did they become pests for others? The first recorded introduction of squirrels to American cities happened in 1847. Now, there are more than 200 species of squirrels in the world. Check out our squirrel facts for answers and more interesting bits of information!

  1. Squirrels are generally small animals and can grow up to 10 to 14 centimeters.
  2. Usually, squirrels weigh about 12 to 26 grams.
  3. Adult squirrels live up to 10 to 20 years in captivity and 5 to 10 years in the wild.
  4. Squirrels’ four front teeth grow about 6 inches every year.
  5. The oldest squirrel fossil ever found is about 11.6 million years old.
  1. Squirrels are part of the Sciuridae family which includes small rodents.
  2. A dray or a scurry is what you call a group of squirrels.
  3. Squirrels are native to Africa, the Americas, and Eurasia.
  4. There are 288 species of squirrels.
  5. They are mammals.
  6. A tree squirrel’s tail measures up to 19 to 25 centimeters.
  7. The word squirrel was from the Ancient Greek word ‘skiouros’, which means shadow-tailed.
  8. Squirrels’ hind limbs are longer than their forelimbs.
  9. There are 4 toes on a squirrel’s forelimbs and 5 toes on their hind limbs.
  10. A squirrel can’t jump over 5 feet from the ground.
  1. Squirrels put on some extra weight to stay warm during winter.
  2. A tripod stance is when squirrels stand on their hind legs and use their tail for support.
  3. These animals use their claws to grip on tree trunk barks.
  4. Mountain beavers and squirrels are closely related.
  5. Many young squirrels die in their first year of life.
Table of Contents

Squirrels eat not only nuts but insects as well.

Generally, squirrels are herbivores, surviving on nut fruits and seeds. But, they also eat insects such as butterflies, caterpillars, and larvae. Some squirrels also eat meat, especially when faced with hunger. Squirrels also eat mushrooms, soil, bird eggs, and animal bones.

For squirrels in captivity, owners need to avoid feeding them with food known to be bad for them. Although these may not pose lasting harm to their squirrels. Some of these foods are cashews, junk food, cookies, dried corn, salty foods, and bread.

squirrel facts
Source: Ryan Hyde on Unsplash

Some squirrels live longer than dogs.

Squirrels that live in the wild have shorter lifespans. They tend to live to around 6 to 10 years old. But those who are in captivity live for about 24 years. However, their lifespans vary from one type to another.

With the American red squirrels, reports say the male lives longer than the females but only by a few weeks. This species can live up to 8 years old but most that live in the wild barely last 2 years. Southern flying squirrels live between 3 to 5 years. They are also the only known flying squirrel in North America. For fox squirrels, they can live up to 18 years old. The male fox squirrels live up to 8 years, while the females live up to 13 years.

Black squirrels are not a different species.

It’s said that these black squirrels are aggressive and of different species. But scientists say that these squirrels are a product of interspecies breeding and mating. Black squirrels are a result of gray squirrels and fox squirrels. They are the same species as the gray, but got their coat through a faulty pigment gene from the fox squirrels. Black ones were first spotted in Letchworth, England in 1912. Reports say that North America exported them to England for private zoos.

Today, you will see black squirrels most in Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, and Hertfordshire. Some also say that the fur on black squirrels adds more protection to cold temperatures.

Other squirrels live in trees.

There are three types of squirrels, one of which is the tree squirrel. Tree squirrels are indigenous to almost all continents except Oceania and Antarctica. An example of this type of squirrel is the eastern gray squirrel. They have gray fur, but can also have brownish ones. Their tails range from 19 to 25 centimeters. These eastern gray squirrels descend a tree head first. They turn their feet so the claws of their hind paws are pointing backward and grip the tree bark. They are also known to be more active during the early and late hours of the day.

The eastern gray squirrels build their nest, also called a drey, in the forks of trees. The dreys consist of dry leaves and twigs. Their nests are about 30 to 60 centimeters in diameter, insulated with feathers. There are also dried grass and moss to prevent heat loss. Eastern gray squirrels also share a drey to stay warm.

Yes, some squirrels fly.

Petauristini is the scientific name for flying squirrels. They do not fly the same way birds do, but they glide from one tree to another. They have patagium, a parachute-like membrane that stretches from wrist to ankle. Other animals like bats, flying lizards, and flying frogs also have the same feature. They also have longer tails to provide stability when gliding. These flying squirrels use their limbs and tails to steer and apply control when gliding. They can escape predators by gliding from tree to tree.

However, owls, tree snakes, and hawks still manage to catch them for food. They live in woodlands and deciduous trees. These are those that lose all their leaves for a part of the year. They will occupy woodpecker holes, abandoned nests of birds, and nest boxes, and make it their home. Two types of flying squirrels are northern and southern. These are the only two indigenous species found in North America.

Ground squirrels live in burrows.

These types of squirrels live in the ground. Ground squirrels usually live in pastures, cemeteries, parks, and golf courses. They are also found in rocky outcrops and fields. Their diet consists of fruits, seeds, fungi, and nuts. But they are also known to eat rats twice or thrice their size. Ground squirrels are famous for rising on their hind legs. They also do this when they sense nearby danger or when they need to see over tall blades of grass.

squirrel
Source: Pixabay

Flying squirrels enter attics.

Some flying squirrels enter home attics especially when temperatures begin to drop. Although they build their nests in trees, they are also found between floors. Reports say flying squirrels carry parasites, lice, fleas, and mites.

If you find one squirrel in your attic, chances are there are more hiding in there since they live in colonies of up to 20. You may also hear scratching, low, soft chirping sounds in the middle of the night. You also need to be careful of these creatures, especially if they have already entered your home. Flying squirrels tend to gnaw on electrical wirings and may cause a fire.

Beware of squirrel poop.

Squirrel poop looks a lot like rat poop but a bit bigger. It is oblong, thick, and rounded at the ends. Reports say that their poop turns white over time. It can also appear clumped which would depend on the moisture content of their food. Food with high moisture will result in soft and clumpy feces. But for food low in moisture, their poop may result in pointed ends.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection spread through urine and animal droppings. It can be a cause for concern when you have squirrel poop in your home. People infected with leptospirosis may experience flu-like symptoms or serious respiratory problems.

Squirrel bites and scratches may be more dangerous than you think.

Squirrels panic and attack if they feel threatened by humans. Rabies may not be a cause for concern, but they may carry other types of diseases. Lyme disease is an infection caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium. Ticks carried by squirrels can infect humans with this disease. Using antibiotics is enough to treat this if detected early.

However, arthritis, facial palsy, and heart palpitations are signs of severe symptoms. Salmonellosis is another type of infection caused by Salmonella bacteria. You can find this type of bacteria in animal feces. Symptoms include vomiting, intestinal cramps, and diarrhea. Treatment for this infection will involve electrolyte replenishing and hydration.

Squirrels are very liberated.

Female squirrels tend to mate with multiple male squirrels when they’re in heat. They’re usually in estrus, or in heat, for only about a few hours. The male will wait until the female is receptive before approaching her. The male squirrels will chase the female squirrel in estrus within her territory. If a dominant male finds the female, he will then mate with her. The mating will last for about 1 to 25 minutes.

There are several ways male squirrels compete with each other. First is attacking another male currently mating with the female. The male will wait somewhere within the female’s territory to catch her before other males do. The second is guarding the female squirrel against other males. This strategy involves giving a call that sounds like an anti-predator call. This will cause other males to hide and freeze. The third is removing the copulatory plug from a female’s vagina after she has mated with another male.

Not all squirrels hibernate during the winter.

Tree squirrels don’t hibernate, but they’re less active during the winter. During warmer times of the year, tree squirrels are most active when there is daylight. But during the winter, all squirrels usually stay in their nests and become idle. However, tree squirrels are still found climbing trees, as long as no snow is falling, and as long as temperatures stay above freezing.

squirrel on a tree
Source: Pixabay

Squirrels breed at different times.

Different types of squirrels breed at different periods. The American red squirrel usually mates twice every year, late winter and mid-summer. The female is only fertile one day for each breeding season, so the male squirrel who mates with a female American red squirrel will do so multiple times in a row. This is to ensure that she becomes pregnant one day. The fox squirrels mate often in January, bearing one litter per year.

Ground squirrels breed in the early spring. Flying squirrels breed in late winter, or early spring. They also breed again during summer. And lastly, eastern gray squirrels breed in late winter, or early spring. Then they do it again in the middle of the summer.

Depending on the type, female squirrels can have more than 10 babies at a time.

Some types of squirrels can have more than 10 babies at a time. That’s a shocking piece of info in our list of squirrel facts! Eastern gray squirrels will give birth to anywhere from 2-9 babies in their nest. With closed eyes, their babies will have no fur and will look pink. The mother will continue nursing them for about 2 months and will keep them warm. When the little squirrels start venturing out of the nest, the mother will continue to help them.

Once the squirrels are ready to leave her, the mother will start mating again. The American red squirrels usually have 3 to 8 babies at a time. Fox squirrels will have 2 to 7 babies, flying squirrels have 2 to 7 babies as well, twice per year. And then the ground squirrels usually have 7 to 8 babies at one time, but can have as many as 15.

Squirrels are pregnant for only 25-45 days.

A squirrel is pregnant between 1 to 1.5 months. A Ground squirrel’s gestation period is between 25 to 30 days. For an American red squirrel, it lasts up to 40 days. A flying squirrel’s gestation period is around 40 days, an eastern gray squirrel around 44 days, and a fox squirrel 45 days. During this time, the female squirrels continue to find food for themselves and maintain their nests. Another task on their priority list is to store food for the coming months.

While doing that, she will also eat enough to nourish her body for her growing babies. She also makes sure to build her nutrients so she can nurse her babies when they’re born. During this time, the male squirrels leave the females to fend for themselves. A female squirrel can also build a new nest if she thinks her place is risky for her young ones.

Black giant squirrel is the biggest squirrel in the world.

Known as one of the largest species is the black giant squirrel. Its length is about 35 to 50 centimeters and its tail is another 50 to 60 centimeters. They can also weigh over 1.5 kilograms. The black giant squirrel is usually found in Asia. These types usually prefer the wilderness, and are not seen in settlements or plantations. Sometimes, they climb down from the forest canopy to feed on the ground. Black giant squirrels are diurnal, so they are active during the day.

Squirrels reach maturity pretty quickly.

One of the most helpful squirrel facts is that they reach sexual maturity at the age of 10 to 12 months old. Both male and female squirrels are fertile and can begin mating. During the first year of a female’s adult life, she will not have more than one baby. When a female squirrel reaches two years old, she will have at least 2 babies per year, as long as her species follows a semi-annual breeding pattern.

three squirrels on the floor
Source: Ilse Orsel on Unsplash

Squirrels wag their tails not because they’re happy, but because they’re upset.

When dogs wag their tails, we know it’s a sign of excitement. However, squirrels wag their tails for the opposite reason. They do this when they see imminent danger. Squirrels will warn other squirrels if they see something suspicious or dangerous. Tail wagging can also be a warning to predators that the squirrels have seen the danger. But if a squirrel’s tail is shivering or trembling, it’s a sign of mating. They want to draw attention to themselves when approaching the opposite sex.

A squirrel’s tooth is irreplaceable.

Time for some shocking squirrel facts! Although a squirrel’s four front teeth do not stop growing, they will not regrow once they fall out or become. An adult squirrel has 16 molars. The reason for the continuous growth of their four front teeth is due to its constant wearing down. And also, due to them always gnawing on tree bark, seeds, and nuts. Baby squirrels get their upper incisors by 5 weeks oldm and lower incisors by 4 weeks old.

They only have three pairs of milk teeth and their adult teeth will come in by 5 months old. A squirrel also has a powerful bite that can cut through the flesh and the bone. With a curved shape, their large teeth are perfect for cracking open some nuts.

Squirrels are smart creatures.

To ensure their survival, squirrels must gather and bury as much food as they can before winter. The scarcity of food is obvious during winter, so they bury it in different caches. But 25% of a squirrel’s food cache gets stolen by other squirrels or even birds. Keeping an eye on their buried food is difficult for squirrels. Squirrels have a sensitive nose and can easily find other squirrel’s food cache.

It’s also common for squirrels to spy on other squirrels as they bury their food. This is in the hope of stealing other’s food when they’re not looking. But squirrels have developed deceptive caching. A squirrel will dig a shallow hole with its paws and fill it in again as it pretends to bury a nut.

Believe it or not, squirrels help plant trees.

They unintentionally plant new trees by not being able to remember where they store their food. It’s smart for squirrels to bury their food in different caches, but they don’t exactly know the location of their many caches. It may protect their food from thieves, but their food is sometimes never found. The seeds that the squirrels bury and no longer remember start to grow into new trees.

Squirrels are great food gatherers.

Gathering and burying their food is what squirrels spend their most time on. The supplies they gather must provide enough food for them to survive in winter. Some say squirrels can collect over 15,000 nuts just in one season. They also preparing their nests and dens to keep them warm in the winter. Squirrels eat more as well to increase their body fat to keep them warm during winter. Red squirrels are the only ones gathering food daily in winter.

Most squirrels will stay in their nests to keep them warm, and will only gather food if necessary. Grey squirrels have developed a different way to keep themselves warm. They shiver to increase their surface temperature. Also, squirrels have an excellent sense of smell. They can sniff out their food cache beneath one foot of snow and dig a tunnel through the snow to reach it.

squirrel
Source: Pixabay

Going zigzag is a squirrel’s way to avoid danger.

Squirrels are great at avoiding predators. They use their intelligence and speed to outrun them. These rodents can sprint up to 32 kilometers per hour when facing danger. They will also zigzag as they sprint. Squirrels do this to cover their intended direction of escape, which makes them hard to catch as well. They are also able to easily spot potential predators from any direction since they have eyes on the side of their heads.

But before sprinting, they first stand completely still. And when they see an opportunity to escape, they take cover and zigzag through while escaping. However, there is one tree squirrel that does not attempt to escape, the Indian giant squirrel. Instead of sprinting forward, they flatten their body against a tree.

Squirrels may build multiple dreys in one season.

A drey or a tree squirrel’s nest provides shelter during winter. Squirrels build them over 6 meters above ground in the branch fork of a tree for stability. Little by little, squirrels continue to build their nest to provide better insulation. The drey has two entrances. The first one is at the bottom that’s close to the trunk to keep the rain out. The second entrance is for quick escapes.

Water leaks are one reason why squirrels build several nests in one season. Other reasons are to keep away from predators and flea or lice infestations. Before abandoning their nests, squirrels use them for about two years. The dreys need constant maintenance that’s why it’s only for a short period that they use it.

Most squirrels were not introduced into parks before the 19th century.

Urban reformers wanted to introduce squirrels to parks to create an entertaining atmosphere. Not only that, sparrows and starlings were also intentionally brought to cities. But squirrels stood out with their cute features and since they also look like they are begging.

This was a characteristic that attracted people with soft hearts and extra food. During wintertime, Harvard University constructed nest boxes for squirrels to dwell in. They also handed out bags of nuts to keep squirrels from going hungry.

Some gray squirrels are all white.

Gray squirrels with white fur could either be due to albinism or leucism. Albinism is a disorder where there is little to no production of the pigment melanin. You will know if it’s albinism if an animal has red or pink eyes, which is a distinctive trait of albinism.

Leucism is a partial loss of pigmentation which can make the animal have white-colored skin. Hair and feathers also become white. Places where you usually see white squirrels are Marionville and Brevard. Other places are North Carolina, Missouri, and Ontario.

Ground squirrels make good rattlesnake perfume.

Research says that some squirrels gather old rattlesnake skin, chew it up, and then lick their fur. This allows them to create a rattlesnake perfume that helps them hide from predators. Studies also show that squirrels using rattlesnake perfume are less attractive to snakes.

snake
Source: James Wainscoat on Unsplash

Squirrels have many predators.

There are different kinds of predators that eat squirrels. The most common bird that eats squirrels is the red-tailed hawk. This bird will view any small animal they encounter as potential food. They will also consume reptiles, fish, and birds.

Mammalian predators who prey on squirrels are coyotes and badgers. Others are weasels, foxes, and bobcats as well. In reptiles, rattlesnakes usually target baby squirrels since they are more vulnerable. There are also times where squirrels often kill each other due to breeding disputes.

There are many ways to keep squirrels away.

There are certain scents that squirrels hate. If you have a squirrel infestation at your home, try spraying these scents to areas in your home to repel them. Spray water on your flowers and plants, and sprinkle some peppermint oil so squirrels will not destroy them. Also, try white pepper, black pepper, and garlic as these are unpleasant to squirrels.

squirrel facts
Source: Pixabay

Real squirrels were on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

In the 2005 remake of the movie “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” the squirrel scene was not edited in through CGI. They were real. The squirrels were professionally trained by Michael Alexander from The Nut Room Animal, an organization of Hollywood animal trainers. Michael and his team spent 19 weeks training the squirrels for that scene.

Squirrels are sometimes not being playful when they roll around.

Some squirrels roll on the ground, act crazy, or even bite themselves at the end of the summer. A reason for this may be due to skin irritations. The skin irritation may be a result of the parasitic botfly larvae living under their skin.