Squirrel Facts

squirrel portraitPortrait of a Squirrel

One of the more amazing squirrel facts is that their brains expand every year when it is time for them to start burying nuts for the winter, giving them the grey matter it takes to remember where all the nuts are stashed.

There are dozens of species of squirrels found all over the world, except Antarctica and Australia.

The Eastern grey squirrel is a typical example - a small, highly active rodent, with a long, well-furred tail.

The iconic tail, held aloft in a graceful s-curve while the squirrel sits on its haunches, serves several purposes.

It is a balancing aid as the squirrel bounds from limb to limb through the treetops, it helps to regulate body temperature, as blood is distributed to the extremities to help cool the body during heat waves, and it aids in communication.

Squirrels jerk their tails to show agitation, carry them high or low to indicate social status, and "flag" their tails when encountering dangerous predators.

Flagging is most often seen in the California ground squirrel, a one pound animal that will approach and confront rattlesnakes while waving their outstretched tails above their heads.

This behavior serves as a multi-pronged signal to the snake that one, they have been detected, and two, the squirrel is focusing full attention on the snake.

Some of the deadliest snakes in the world will simply turn and slither away when approached by a flagging squirrel. Their advantage as an ambush hunter lost, they move on to other less alert quarry.

squirrel in the grass

Another fascinating habit of many squirrel species is the burying of nuts and seeds in preparation for winter months.

Eastern grey squirrels, found in the Eastern United States and Canada, may collect and hide 1,000 nuts, acorns and seeds in a single Autumn season.

They bury one nut per 2-inch deep hole, and cover it back up discreetly.

When the leaves fall from the trees, in the dead of winter, they can remember the location of all these buried treasures, and dig them up, even through feet of snow.

But how is it possible for an animal with a brain the size of a walnut to actually remember where they buried all their walnuts?

Their hippo campus, which is a brain structure critical for memory, appears to change by season, developing more neuron activity, and even expanding in size in the fall, when the job of caching is due to begin.

Squirrels also show incredible adaptability by living and thriving in some of the worlds busiest cities. Manhattan, Chicago, Los Angeles, are all home to grey squirrels and fox squirrels, and Eastern grey squirrels can be found all the way in London, where they were imported from America in the 1800's.

These squirrels, fully wild animals, sometimes show amazing trust in their human neighbors, climbing on and accepting treats from friendly animal lovers from Central Park to Piccadilly circus.

Backyard squirrels in suburban neighborhoods show their smarts by outwitting bird feeders, pet food containers and garbage cans.

They have shown in scientific experiments to have remarkable powers of reason, working on locks and puzzles and mazes with the ease of rats and raccoons.

Squirrels are so intelligent, in fact, that in some urban areas where traffic is super heavy, they will wait at crosswalks with other pedestrians and cross only when the group of people steps off the curb, indicating the coast is clear.

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a few more Squirrel facts

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  • Squirrels can remember the location of hundreds of buried nuts
  • The squirrel is a rodent, related to marmots and prairie dogs
  • Squirrels have double-jointed ankles so they can come down a tree head first
  • The squirrels ankles rotate so that the claws of the toes can hook on the tree bark
  • There are dozens of species of squirrels found all over the world
  • Squirrels make a nest out of twigs called a drey

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