Twelve things about Squirrels that will blow your mind

Squirrels rule. Here’s why:

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Where have you been all my life?

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.)

Twiggy has experienced more in two squirrel years than most people do in a lifetime.

Twiggy has experienced more in two squirrel years than most people do in a lifetime.

4) Squirrels are good swimmers, although they usually prefer not to. Except for Twiggy, the water-skiing squirrel.

Rare Oberlin Unicorn squirrel.

Albus, the rare Oberlin unicorn squirrel.

5) The college I went to had a rare white unicorn squirrel in its central square. I saw it once, and it was one of the best days of my life.tumblr_m2s6z0PdWp1qgugy6o1_500

Moments later there was nothing left but bones. (Image from Brian Ashcraft)

Moments later there was nothing left but bones. (Image from Brian Ashcraft)

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).

Laugh not. We ate a dog.

Laugh not. We ate a dog.

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!

And we can fly too!

And we can fly too!

*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.

Comments

  1. Amie A. Conant says:

    Love this post! I’m glad to find another lover of squirrels. When I started my degree, 26 years ago, for photography the first two weeks– were all pictures of squirrels. Also created a poem about squirrels last year. When I was a child, my grandparents had a white squirrel on their farm, which was fascinating to me.

    • Squirrel poetry! Please share!

      • Amie A. Conant says:

        [Not]

        queer, hairy, creatures
        shuffling, shambling, wallowing
        no bones in their bodies

        discover a good way
        to avoid admiring only acorns.

        wrapped in skins of sage rabbits
        the dirt old and thick
        strangely blurred
        divided by seams
        and wrinkles worn to the weather
        for ages.

        pass a circle
        closely besieged
        begged whiskey
        tobacco, to get away
        from the gray, grim

        see them vanish
        fellow beings—
        [not] the society of squirrels and woodchucks

        (words from John Muir’s “First Summer in the Sierras” August 24, 1869)

        This is an erasure poem–I left out words and then arranged them. As part of an exercise in poetry 412 class with Dr. Steensen. The fascinating part was the dichotomous difference between the way that John Muir described people –the native Americans, and the animals– such as squirrels.

  2. A squirrel just destroyed my supposedly squirrel proof bird feeder.

  3. Don’t forget Red Squirrels. Red Squirrels are gorgeous.
    One of them started the Tufty Club!* http://www.rospa.com/about/history/tufty.aspx
    Tufty has kept thousand of children safe on the roads since the 1960s in Britain.
    * Probably with the help of some people, but, whatever

  4. Squirrels cook says:

    Per #6, where would one find Japanese oven mitts for squirrels? And who puts them on the squirrels? And how do they get them to stay on? So many questions.

  5. This made me laugh, but it made my husband cringe. I’m pretty sure one of the main reasons he gets up in the morning, is to make our neighborhood squirrels’ lives a living hell. He has a long history of battling squirrels and a vast majority of his day is occupied patrolling the bird feeder outside his office window. Thanks to this post, Todd, he’s now afraid to let our 95-lb boxer outside…

  6. Anyone ever see a BBC (or PBS) documentary film about a squirrel in England who was raised by a cat, and would bury nuts in the litterbox, and play with the other kittens? I think it was from the 70’s or 80’s. I saw it on late night TV years ago (after a big night out), and have been searching for it ever since. I think the squirrel’s name may have been Sammy. It was an incredible story. Needs to be a picture book.

  7. Here it is. Many thanks to Ronald Cree for finding this. It’s the best documentary ever! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YkEqQ5pnXM

  8. I zig-zagged my way to this site, in attempts to find information on a squirrel’s ability to survive a nest being blown out of a tree. I just spent my Sunday between tears and panic, over the duscovery that my beloved squirrels’ nest was gone, from the house that we recently moved from, when I went back to visit them. My landlord swears that she knows nothing of an “active removal.” Thank you for making me feel less insane and isolated in my true love for my squirrels. Madison, Wi weather was brutal, dueing the week after we moved. I can only hope.

  9. sallie keaton says:

    I have always enjoyed watching the squirrels dart here and there and hung upside down by their tails to eat out of my bird feeder. but my like of squirrels turned into my love of squirrels last October. my son cut down a dead tree in our yard, went in to eat lunch came back out to stack wood and heard a squeaking noise didn’t see anything but went and got his dad to help him look for the source, after awhile they found 1 tiny hairless pink thing no bigger than my thumb, upon looking more they found 2 others (they were not sure what they were still), looked online decided they were squirrels maybe a day old, I stopped on my way home from work and hot puppy formula and a little bottle, read a ton of information, kept them warm, them around the clock EVERY 2 hours….they were so gross little pink wrinkly skin and long tails (Ewwww). I made little tiny blankets and swaddled them to feed them (they had long nails) , after a few days of this I fell totally completely in love with Sandy, Mandy & Randy (they were now my babies) unfortunately Randy passed away, I cried for days, squirrels are unable to maintain their body temperature when they are hairless babies and in spite of my getting up every 30 minutes to check their warmth, Randy didn’t make it..We have had a farm and have lost animals before but for some reason Randy’s death just devastated me..I have taken excellent care of Sandy and Mandy but not handling them as much as I could because I had ever intention of releasing them when they got about 3 months old, but it was cold out and I still felt they needed me. they are now 7 months old and just the highlight of my days, they never cease to make me smile. I am now unable to release them because I’m afraid they will get run over, shot or not be able to find enough food and water. they have a big cage and I release them in my bathroom every few days and let them run and jump around..They like to eat ice, avocados, carrot, blueberries, and corn and pecans, and other things but those are their favorites. They let me pet them and rub their bellies in the cage but when they are out they are wild and crazy jumping from one place to the other. Love my girls. Enjoyed your post.

  10. David Pink says:

    Squirrels are for sure fascinating animals. They chase each other 10 miles an hour around a 6 foot diameter oak tree. Some times they must dig up a hundred holes to look for a pecan nut. I still can’t figure out how they know that August 15 on their squirrel calendar to come to my pecan tree to start eating my pecans. At that date the acid in a pecan will kill a human child. The pecans are not edible to humans till about Sept 15th or later.
    My tree has aluminum sheeting on first 6″ of 2 foot dia. tree. I cut all limbs on trees around it. One tree the limbs grew back in ten years and now they only have to jump 8 feet between trees 65 feet up. If they fall with a big thump they just get up in 2 seconds and scrabble off. My 90′ pecan tree is a wild one and with lots of oil in its small size nut. I have never tasted pecans so good anywhere else. Problem is if you kill off the squirrels the Blue jays will stash the rest like they return every 15 min. The woodpeckers take their share to stash, and I’ve seen crows snatching them with out landing on tree.
    One year 2004 I borrowed a Rockrowler dog on a line to keep the squirrels away and got 47 pecans, then hurricane Ivan gave me 77 but a week later the blue jays came and they took the rest.. Anouther year 2012 Hurricane Isaac came at the right time and I got a 5gal bucket full.
    It was 6 years before I discovered that the tree bore nuts, because it was 90′ tall. Hur, Katrina knocked off 40″,but has re-grown limbs back. Tree very thin because at edge of woods. One year 2003 I saw the tree was full of nuts, that was Wednesday, I checked Saturday after work and behold the tree was empty with only a few green ones on the ground. One pecan tree up the street I counted 25 squirrels zooming around picking nuts, so that many working 15 hours a day. They kept my wife up at night with all their chewing.
    How good is their eye sight or how good they know there surroundings?
    Sometimes I open front door and as I’m walking across grass to next door, a squirrel across the street about 300 ft away in woods yells a warning to others I’m around. We have painted the tails of squirrels and taken them 1000″ away in woods, and some are seen back the next day in the tree.
    I can see my tree from back door at corner of door, but the second I look at them eating the fallen green nuts they jump on 4′ dia. fallen oak tree, then go up a tree. If I pull back my towels in bathroom window side facing tree say one inch so I can put my eyeball threw they see me in a few split seconds and they are a minimum of 170 feet away.
    The 1st year squirrels are not very smart, A squirrel will go after a nut till he dies, you can chase him off, but will be back shortly, I think squirrel talk to each other, can tell others where the nuts are as in great migration movements of long ago. It’s like migration of Monarch butterflies, all the kin folk always migrate at certain seasons. Reindeer and wildebeests know where the grass is greener at certain times of the year, so did squirrels.

  11. Bob Holmes says:

    I have been feeding my tree squirrels for two or three years and am madly in love with them all. I buy unsalted roasted peanuts from Costco and they absolutely love them. Before I started feeding them, some had sparse tail fur and irregular growth around their little bodies. After several months of daily feeding, they are filled in and nicely plump. I just love their antics and can watch them for hours.
    They will come looking for food when I whistle and “cluck” for them. I say “cluck” because that is the closest sound in trying to emulate squirrel talk.
    If I am late feeding them, the boss squiurrel will come on my back steps and look inside for me.
    I love these little creatures and they make my life more complete.

    • Thanks for your comment about the squirrels. I love watching them as well, and picturing the “boss” squirrel clucking for you cracked me up.

  12. I’m doing a project and I was just wondering if you knew how many hairs a squirrel has.

  13. I am doing a project for a class and I was wondering if you knew how many hairs a squirrel has

    • Great question! I have no idea. A wildlife Biologist might be able to give you an estimate on this. What I do know is that when you see a squirrel without much hair on its tail, it’s often because the squirrel pulled out its tail fur to line the inside of its drey, or nest, for its young. There’s nothing softer than a squirrel fur bed!

  14. The concept of squirrel migration is fascinating! I mean, never needing to touch the ground, blocking out the sun’s rays with their numbers…It is both the coolest sounding thing I’ve heard in a while, and the saddest, considering they don’t have these opportunities anymore.

    Not a hater, but not loving them either, as they create chaos when my dumb (wonderful) dog goes ballistic, scaring the crap out of me.

    Thanks!

  15. Do squirrels gave feelings????

  16. Erin T. Aardvark says:

    I only have one thing to say about the pic of the Japanese Flying Squirrels. SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!

    (believe me, when I say “squee” like that, it means I’m in love with utter cuteness)

  17. Erin T. Aardvark says:

    Forgive the spamming-esque, but I just thought of something else. One of my favorite cartoon characters is a squirrel.

  18. karen gautier says:

    When we go to the park to feed them .They seem to have bad eyesight .can’t see the nuts when there close up

    • Hi
      I believe they find the nuts primarily by smell. Their eyes are for protecting them from predators at a distance. Try this: In there presents, accentuate your blinking by doing so slowly and evenly. Our little buddies recognize this behavior as non-threatening. I started doing this and the result is amazing. When you think about it, predators stare at their prey. Even the new juveniles come right up and don’t appear to fear me in any way. They make my day, every day! I LOVE these little guys, What a hoot at dinner time!

  19. I live in Florida and we have neighborhood squirrels that love to come around in the mornings and evenings looking for hand outs. I feed them standard nuts I buy from Publix. Some will come right to my feet while others will stay at a distance. What I can’t stand is these Blue Jays that fly down and “steal” them. Anyway to put a halt to the thievery? Thanks!

    • Hi
      I have fashioned a semi-jay proof squirrel diner out of an old plastic laundry basket. I turn the basket upside down with the front edge resting on a brick and the squirrels shinny underneath for their meal of peanuts. BTW, ever notice the symbiotic way crows and squirrels watch out for each other? The crows will herald the approach of a predator and the squirrels disappear. Occasionally, I will toss stale bread out for the birds and the squirrels will cluck for the crows and they show up. Cute!

  20. Question. When you approach a squirrel, and they run from you, why do they always jump to the back side of a tree?

  21. SteadySteve says:

    I never knew how smart a grey squirrel was until I became the owner of two that fell out of the nest and was about to be tortured to death by a cat. When I got them home hardly any hair and eyes closed. My wife bottle fead them every couple hour’s and a year later they have there own bedroom and roam through the house a couple time’s a day,and have become a part of the family and a very good pet sometimes I think I’m the pet. As for interaction with people just me my wife and 3 year old grandson who lives with us are allowed to touch them most of the time when company is over they hide in there room but if messed with will growl and lunge at strangers and will not be intimidated. Just wanted to add they are a crazy animal and I am looking forward to many year’s of there company.

  22. Kate Leven Patterson says:

    Sparky, my own personal squirrel, comes to either our front or side door every single morning for his breakfast. I always have Ritz crackers and peanut butter ready for him, or her, I can’t really tell LOL. So I speak and I say, “Okay Sparky. Mama is here.” I say it in a very lilting, sing-song voice. He has no fear and comes right up to me and stands up on his two hindividuals legs. Then I hold out the cracker with the peanut butter and he very delicately takes it in his mouth and scampers off. He goes into the tree in our front yard and has his first course. Then he comes for a second serving. We do this every single morning, particularly here in the Detroit area where it gets so darn cold. Anyway, that’s my Sparky. I love squirrels.

  23. I was watching the squirrels in my backyard today…they were so comical. One was chasing another up and down and around the trees, clucking the whole time. I stayed perfectly still.
    I’ve read that they also communicate with their tails. And leaping lizards, can they jump.
    Little acrobats and so funny to watch. Thank you, God for providing humorous nature!

  24. Charles Downum says:

    can A squirrel go backwards

  25. Faith Sullo says:

    outsmart me everytime

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