Squirrels rule. Here’s why:
I’ve tried to explain my love of squirrels to folks before, only to watch them back away slowly and speed dial their doctor for a rabies vaccine. So here it is (with pictures), twelve amazing facts about squirrels for the uninitiated.
1) There’s a squirrel superhero: Squirrel Girl! (And Ulysses –the squirrel superhero from Kate DiCamillo’s fabulous Flora and Ulysses, who writes poems!).
2) Squirrels can jump vertically five feet, and can leap between objects that are over ten feet apart. Given that squirrels are less than 1/10th the size of people, if you could do this, you would be a superhero who could literally jump onto five story buildings and clear buses and trucks in a single bound.
3) Squirrels can sprint faster than you. (Unless you’re Usain Bolt, in which case you’re probably faster than a squirrel. But can you run vertically up a tree at 12 mph? I didn’t think so.)
4) Squirrels are good swimmers, although they usually prefer not to. Except for Twiggy, the water-skiing squirrel.
6) In Japan, there are squirrel gardens (where you can pet squirrels with oven mitts).
7) The white fur on the inner thigh of a squirrel is the softest thing you have never touched.
8) Squirrels pull out their tail fur for their young.
9) A squirrel nest is called a drey. It looks like a leafy piñata in a tree, but please don’t hit it with a stick.
10) Squirrels in North America used to migrate in massive numbers, following the cycles of bountiful acorn harvests. When settlers first arrived in this country, they reported squirrels being so thick in the trees above during a migration that they blocked out the sun for days. The best part — squirrels could do most of the journey from the East coast to Indiana without ever touching the ground. But as settlers started to clear the forests, the great squirrel migrations became fragmented. Where squirrels had to cross fields, they were killed in the thousands by coyotes, foxes, and other predators, including people who reported killing hundreds of squirrels per hour with clubs (and getting a penny a pelt). The last great squirrel migration was in 1963 in Wisconsin, when a couple million squirrels were seen migrating (and dying on the highway and in lakes). One fisherman reported a wave of squirrels swimming toward his boat and nearly sinking it as they ran over him. Since then, this mass migration behavior has gone extinct.*
11) The Japanese flying squirrel is the cutest thing you have ever seen. (If this doesn’t win you over to the squirrel side of the force, then try number 12).
12) Squirrels have been known to gang up and attack much larger animals. Don’t believe me? Check out this BBC report of squirrels in Russia who killed a large Rottweiler that barked at them and “carried off pieces of its flesh.” The moral: don’t mess with squirrels!
*Okay, this post might seem to have very little to do with writing (except for the fact that squirrels are awesome, and therefore an inspiration to every writer ever) but for years I’ve wanted to write a book on squirrel migration (see #10). Trouble is, when I tried to research it, I found that very few biologists know about this behavior, and one of the leading experts, Dr. Flygar, (yes, that really is his name) I fear has passed away. So it’s been a tough one to investigate, but if you know any experts on squirrel migration, or migration witnesses, please send me their contact information. The wonder of squirrel migrations must be documented before all knowledge of this fantastic (and now extinct) behavior fades away!
Final note: There is a Squirrel Lovers Club. Don’t judge. Just join.