A part of the Sciuridae family, squirrels are one of the most common mammals in the world. Present on every inhabited continent, more than 200 species of squirrels exist and they are a regular sight in backyards across the world. Part of the same animal family that is home to chipmunks, marmots, woodchucks and prairie dogs, most squirrels are easily recognizable by their slender bodies and bushy tails.
There are three primary types of squirrels, the first being tree squirrels. Likely the most often seen and recognized type of squirrel, tree squirrels, as their name indicates, spend most of their time in trees out of the reach of predators, descending to the ground to gather and store food. The second type, ground squirrels, includes marmots, groundhogs and woodchucks. Ground squirrels tend to be larger and usually live in burrows. However they are capable climbers when trying to escape from predators. The third type is flying squirrels. These tree-dwelling rodents have large flaps of skin between the arms and legs that act as a parachute, allowing them to make incredible leaps between trees.
Squirrels range in size from just a few inches long and less than an ounce in weight to nearly three feet long and 30lbs for some woodchucks. They come in an array of different colors to suit their varied habitats. Being as they are rodents, squirrels have long front teeth that never stop growing. The persistent growth of these teeth is essential as squirrels never stop gnawing and breaking open seeds and the teeth would otherwise get worn down.
Squirrels are omnivorous and have a varied diet. Most subsist on nuts, seeds and fruit, while others also will consume insects, snakes, eggs, birds and other rodents. However, if hungry a squirrel will eat just about anything. Tree squirrels in particular are known for gathering and storing food in underground stores called caches, sometimes burying thousands of seeds or acorns in a season. Then when food is scarce in the winter the squirrel can dig up these caches whenever a meal is required. Squirrels always bury more than what they dig up and many of those seeds left in the ground eventually sprout into trees, making squirrels an important part of a sustainable ecosystem.
All squirrels except for flying squirrels are diurnal, which means they sleep at night. Their quickness and climbing ability allows them to escape from most predators. Flying squirrels on the other hand are nocturnal. Although able to glide through the air in a form of “flight”, flying squirrels are no match for hawks, so they choose to come out only at night.
Female squirrels can give birth to two to eight offspring at a time and have several litters a year. The young squirrels are raised by their mother in a tree hole or underground burrow for their first three months of life, after which they will become independent. Squirrels are often solitary animals but it is not uncommon for a large group of them to den together in winter months to conserve body heat, only for all but the den owner to leave when warmer weather arrives.
- Flying squirrels can jump between trees that are more than 150 feet apart.
- Squirrels sweat through their feet.