By biological classification, squirrels belong to kingdom Animalia; class; phylum Chordata; subphylum Vertebrata; order Rodentia; class Mammalia; family Sciuridae. Squirrels are classed as small or medium-sized rodents with such other animals as chipmunks, marmots, and prairie dogs. In fact, there are many kinds of squirrels which include red squirrel, American red squirrel, Western gray squirrel, Abert’s squirrel, Indian palm squirrel, Pallas’s squirrel among others; and they differ in terms of body form and structure such as tree squirrels, ground squirrels, flying squirrels, and tree squirrels. Squirrels mostly inhabit trees in forests, woodlands and semiarid deserts, although they also move on the ground where they live in burrows. They are beautiful, exciting creatures that are found nearly in all kinds of continents and environments except Australia and Antarctica. They have variable life spans which appear to differ by species. For example, chipmunk may live as long as 6 to 10 years whereas marmots live longer, usually beyond 15 years. Similarly, gestation periods vary from one species of squirrels to another such as 33 days for marmot; between 33 to 34 days for chipmunk; and 44 days for gray squirrels. There are about 50 genera and 268 species of them. Flavors which include black pepper, garlic, and white pepper are unpleasant to squirrels.
Uniqueness of Squirrels
Characteristics of squirrels include typical slender bodies; possession of large eyes and long, bushy tails; they have light, swift and agile bodies; and they have soft, silky fur. In general, squirrels like leaping between tree branches and from one tree to the next; and to scurry up and down trees. They are intelligent, smart creatures. Tree-dwelling species build dens with twigs high in trees. These dens usually serve as dwelling places and also provide shelter for baby squirrels. They also live in groups to warm up in cold seasons. A group of squirrels is called a scurry. Squirrels zigzag to escape predators. And their front teeth never stop growing. A baby squirrel is just about an inch long.
Diets and Feeding Habits of Squirrels
In general, squirrels are vegetarians; that is they like to eat vegetables. Their favorite foods include seeds, nuts, fruits, and fungi such as mushrooms. However, squirrels also frequently feed on other creatures including insects such as caterpillars, and even small snakes. Thus, they are omnivores. Lately, it has been found that male American Red Squirrels sometimes slay their pups for food. This perhaps is the most amazing about them. Lately, it has been found that squirrels, mostly members of the red species, also sometimes prey on baby birds and bird eggs when there is food scarcity. While squirrels do not necessarily attack birds for food, they have been closely observed and caught visiting bird nests.
Squirrels raid bird nests in search of baby birds while mother birds are absent. But they do also cart away their eggs right in front of them! Bird eggs and baby birds usually provide food nutrients which include calcium, protein, minerals, and vitamins for squirrels. Squirrels particularly feed on bird shells for calcium. Squirrels will eat absolutely every part of a bird. They eat baby robins too! Other favorite foods of squirrels include corn, tree buds, apple, squash, broccoli, apricots, avocados, and oranges.
Species of Bird-Preying Squirrels
Red squirrels. This is scientifically known as Sciurus vulgaris. Red squirrels have distinct reddish-brown coat with pale underside. They occur in large numbers in countries such as the Great Britain, Ireland, and in a limited number in Italy. Although in the modern time, their populations have also decreased in Britain and Ireland resulting partly from rising human population and alteration of habitats, and introduction of gray squirrels from North America. Generally, their life expectancy range between 3 and 7 years. Their gestation period is normally 38 days.
Flying squirrels. This species of squirrel is scientifically known as Pteromyini. There are about 50 species of them. They are called flying birds because they can glide from one tree to another by means of a furry, parachute-like membrane called patagium that stretches from their wrist to ankle. They occur in North America and Euratia. A wild flying squirrel has a gestation period of 40 days and can live up to 6 years but may live much longer in a zoo. They can be as long as 16 centimeters in length and can weigh as much as 1.2 kilogram!
Western gray squirrels. They are scientifically known as Sciurus griseus. They are the largest tree squirrels native to the western coasts of Mexico and the United States. They are also known as silver-gray squirrels. They have long, bushy tails that help them balance while gliding between trees. They normally range in length between 18 and 20 inches. And their gestation period is normally 43 days. They normally occur in oak woodlands, oak savannas, and woodlands comprising oak, pine, and fir. When threatened, western gray squirrels make sounds which include rasping, chattering, and barking. These sounds are used for different reasons such as to scare away predators, and to send message to mates especially to those of opposite sex. And when threatened, they stamp their feet.
Squirrels are exciting creatures of nature. In this article, their species, habitats, and diets are examined. Perhaps one thing that most people might not know about squirrels is that they are omnivores and sometimes include other animals including birds and snakes in their diets. It may also be interesting to know that these creatures have the ability to recognize human beings. If you ever have the chance to look at one, I am sure you will like to see its color, body shape, and sequence of exciting movements that it displays. It is never going to be an overstatement that these wonderful creatures are important component of nature that need to be conserved. Not only for now but more importantly for the future.