All About Squirrels
More than 200 species of squirrels live all over the world, except in Australia and, of course, Antarctica, with the most common type being the tree squirrel. While several species live in the United States, we are most familiar with the gray squirrel.
Squirrels are classified as rodents. They have four incisors that are constantly growing and need filing down, which indicators rodents. Squirrels chew to keep them the right size to fit in their mouths. This is why, when we see one on a tree limb, he or she is probably nibbling on something.
Squirrels range from about 5 inches long in Africa to up to four feet long in Laos. In North America, they are small to medium in length.
Squirrels commonly “sit” on their hind legs while using their front paws and sharp claws to climb and hold food to eat. Their bushy tails are used to keep balance when climbing, scaring away predators, regulating temperature and cushioning falls.
Females (sows) produce about 2 litters of young per year with the major breeding seasons between December and January and between May and June. Litters consist of 2 to 4.
Males (boars) keep their testicles inside their bodies until it is breeding time. The dominant male usually gets the mate. The male and female then have a short courtship, before she enters her breeding cycle. After breeding, the males have no interaction with their young.
The typical pregnancy lasts between 40 and 45 days. The babies are born hairless, their eyes and ears closed, and only weigh ½ an ounce. The young squirrels are sexually mature at the end of their first year.
The life cycle of a squirrel in the wild averages around 6 years depending on the amount of food available, predators, disease and weather. In captivity, some squirrels live up to 15 years.
The best place for squirrels to live is in hollow “dens,” inside a tree. Female squirrels with babies will not allow other squirrels to share the den even though squirrels are social animals. If a den is not found, they will make leaf nests, but that severely impacts the survival rate of the baby squirrels.
Everyone knows that squirrels like nuts, but if there isn’t enough, squirrels will eat berries and other fruits, flowers, mushrooms and even the occasional small animal.
Squirrels do not hibernate and are active during the day. They are territorial and noisy, especially during mating season and tend to be social, except when rearing their young. Chasing is used for play, mating and guarding their territory.
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