Tree squirrel

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
A squirrel in the University of Cambridge Botanic Gardens

Tree squirrels are the members of the

arboreal species native to all continents except Antarctica and Oceania.[1][2][3][a]

They do not form a single natural, or

patagia, acting as glider wings, which allow gliding flight

The best-known

urban parks


Indian palm squirrel (Funambulus palmarum)
American red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)

Current taxonomy, based on genetic data, splits the tree squirrels into several subfamilies. The following genera of the squirrel family are classified as tree squirrels.[3][5]

  • Subfamily
    • Genus
      (Asian giant squirrels)
  • Subfamily
    • Genus
      (South American pygmy squirrel)
  • Subfamily Sciurinae
    • Tribe Sciurini (mostly American tree squirrels)
      • Genus Microsciurus (American dwarf squirrels)
      • Genus
        (Borneo tufted ground squirrel)
      • Genus Sciurus (Eurasian and American tree squirrels)
      • Genus
        (Central American mountain squirrel)
      • Genus
        (American pine squirrels)
  • Subfamily Callosciurinae (Asian tree squirrels)
    • Genus Callosciurus (Oriental tree squirrels, introduced into Europe and South America)
    • Genus Exilisciurus (Asian pygmy squirrels)
    • Genus Funambulus (Asian palm squirrels, introduced into Australia in the 1920s)[1][2]
    • Genus
      (sculptor squirrel)
    • Genus
      (Asian dwarf squirrel)
    • Genus Prosciurillus (Sulawesi dwarf squirrels)
    • Genus
      (Sulawesi giant squirrel)
    • Genus Sundasciurus (Sunda squirrels)
    • Genus
      (Asian striped squirrels)
  • Subfamily Xerinae
    • Tribe Protoxerini (African tree squirrels)
      • Genus
        (African palm squirrels)
      • Genus
        (rope squirrels)
      • Genus
        (sun squirrels)
      • Genus
        (African pygmy squirrel)
      • Genus
        (bush squirrels)
      • Genus
        (African giant squirrels)

Relationship with humans

Squirrels are generally inquisitive and persistent animals. In residential neighborhoods, they are notorious for tenaciously trying to circumvent obstacles in order to eat from

arboreal, some species of squirrels also thrive in urban
environments, where they have adapted to humans.

As pets

Depiction of a pet squirrel on a leash with a feeder in a 14th-century antiphonary (Bruges Public Library, MS. SVC 010A)

Squirrels have been kept as pets in Western society at least until the 19th century. Because of their small size and tame nature, they were especially popular with women and the clergy.[6]

As pests

Iron bird feeder advertised as being "squirrel-proof and bear-resistant"

Squirrels are sometimes considered

, and because their teeth grow continuously, prevents their over-growth. On occasion, squirrels will chew through plastic and even metal to get to the food.

Tree squirrels may bury food in the ground for later retrieval. Squirrels use their keen sense of smell to search for buried food, but can dig numerous holes in the process. This may become an annoyance to

with strict landscape requirements, especially when the garden contains edibles.

Homeowners in areas with a heavy squirrel population must be vigilant in keeping

basements, and sheds carefully sealed to prevent property damage caused by nesting squirrels.[7][8][9] A squirrel nest is called a "drey

Squirrels are a serious

excreta, unpleasant odors, and eventual structural damage.[7][9]

Some homeowners resort to more interesting ways of dealing with this problem, such as collecting and placing fur from pets such as domestic

mothballs and ammonia, are generally ineffective in expelling squirrels from buildings.[7]

This squirrel has become desensitized to humans. The distance between the squirrel and the camera was less than 18 in (46 cm).

Once established in a nest, squirrels ignore fake

electromagnetic devices. However, squirrels must leave the nest to obtain food and water (usually daily, except in bad weather), affording an opportunity to trap them or exclude them from re-entering.[7][9]

To discourage chewing on an object, it can be coated or covered with something to make it distasteful: for instance a soft cloth doused with chili pepper paste or powder.[10] Capsaicin and Ro-pel are other forms of repellent.[9] To remain effective, the coating must be reapplied regularly, especially if it is exposed to the weather. Poisoning squirrels can be problematic because of the risks to other animals or children in the building, and because the odor of a dead squirrel in an attic or wall cavity is very unpleasant and persistent.[7]

Trapping is often used to remove squirrels from residential structures.[11] Effective baits include fruit, peanut butter, nuts, seeds and vanilla extract.[12]

An alternative method is to wait until squirrels have left in search of food, and then close up all their access openings, or to install one-way

trap doors or a carefully angled pipe.[9] Attempting to get rid of all squirrels in a neighborhood is generally a futile goal; the focus instead should be on physically excluding them from places where they can do damage.[7] There are other humane techniques to remove squirrels from buildings, but removal is ineffective unless steps are taken to prevent them from immediately breaking in again.[7][8][13]

Squirrels are often the cause of

NASDAQ stock market twice and were responsible for a spate of power outages at the University of Alabama.[14] To sharpen their teeth, squirrels will often chew on tree branches or even the occasional live power line.[7] Rubber or plastic plates, or freely rotating sleeves ("squirrel guards") are sometimes used to discourage access to these facilities.[15][16]

Squirrels otherwise appear to be safe and pose almost zero risk of transmitting rabies.[17]

Squirrels cause economic losses to homeowners, nut growers, and forest managers in addition to damage to electric transmission lines. These losses include direct damage to property, repairs, lost revenue and public relations. While dollar costs of these losses are sometimes calculated for isolated incidents, there is no tracking system to determine the total extent of the losses.[18]

As roadkill and traffic hazards

In regions where squirrels are plentiful, tire-flattened

reaction times than motorists in heavy vehicles; the majority of vehicular encounters end with no harm to either party.[22]

An effort to mitigate these hazards to both squirrels and humans is the Nutty Narrows Bridge in Longview, Washington, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It provides a way for squirrels to cross a busy street safely.

Tree squirrels are a common attraction of many urban parks.

As urban wildlife

Tree squirrels are a common type of urban wildlife.[23] They can be trained to be hand-fed, and will take as much food as is available because they cache the surplus. Squirrels living in parks and campuses in cities have learned that humans are typically a ready source of food, either deliberately or from careless disposal of surplus. Some people do "squirrel fishing" as a way of simultaneously playing with and feeding squirrels.

Humans commonly offer various nuts and seeds; however, wildlife rehabilitators in the field have noted that neither raw nor roasted peanuts nor sunflower seeds are healthy for squirrels, because they are deficient in several essential nutrients. This type of deficiency has been found to cause metabolic bone disease, a somewhat common ailment found in malnourished squirrels.[24][25][dubious ]

As game

Squirrels are sometimes hunted as

fishing flies.[citation needed

In the US

In many areas of the US, squirrels are still hunted for food, as they were historically.

The Joy of Cooking.[32][33] Squirrel meat can be substituted for rabbit or chicken in many recipes and was an ingredient in the original recipe for Brunswick stew, a popular dish in various parts of the Southern US.[34] Other similar stews were also based on squirrel meat, including burgoo and Southern Illinois chowder

Although squirrel meat is low in fat content, unlike most game meat it has been found by the American Heart Association to be high in cholesterol.[35]

Squirrels Unlimited[36] host a World Championship Squirrel cook-off each year in Bentonville, Arkansas.[37]

In the UK

For most of the history of the


Some Britons are eating gray squirrel as a direct attempt to help the native

indigenous red squirrels.[38][39][40] This factor was marketed by a national "Save Our Squirrels" campaign that used the slogan, "Save a red, eat a grey!"[38]

Risks of eating

As with other wild game and

New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services issued a warning to anyone who eats squirrel (especially children and those who are pregnant) to limit their consumption after a lead-contaminated squirrel was found near the Ringwood Mines Landfill.[41] Toxic waste had been illegally dumped at this location for many years, before authorities cracked down on this practice in the 1980s.[42]

In 1997, doctors in

New York Times.[33][43][44] A 2015 case of CJD in a Pittsburgh man who had eaten squirrel brains played out similarly: the media seized on the patient's unconventional food choice, positing squirrel brains as the source of his disease.[45] The doctor who made the initial report later clarified that he had not meant to assert the squirrel meat was the cause.[46] Analysis of the patient's brain tissue ruled out the possibility of CJD acquired from food. As of 2018, Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease had never been identified in squirrels, and the association between squirrel consumption and CJD remained speculative.[47]

Relationship with trees

The biggest source of food for

tree nuts
. Red squirrels store nuts in a single stash (a
midden) that tends to dry out, so the seeds don't take root. Fox squirrels and gray squirrels bury nuts over a widespread area (
scatterhoarding), and often forget them, resulting in new trees (mutualism).[48][49]

In culture

Seventeenth-century Icelandic manuscript illustration depiction Ratatoskr, a squirrel in Norse mythology said to live in the world-tree Yggdrasil and to convey insults and gossip[50]

In the Ramayana, an ancient Sanskrit epic poem, a squirrel assists in constructing a bridge from India to Sri Lanka to help Rama rescue his wife Sita.[50] Rama rewards the squirrel by stroking his back with his three middle fingers, thus giving the Indian palm squirrel the three white stripes that appear on its back.[50] In Norse mythology, the squirrel Ratatoskr is a messenger who scurries up and down the trunk of the world-tree Yggdrasil, carrying malicious gossip and insults back and forth between the dragon Níðhöggr, who sits at the bottom of the tree gnawing on its roots, and the hawk Veðrfölnir, who sits at the top of the tree keeping watch.[51][50][52] According to Richard W. Thorington, Jr. and Katie E. Ferrell, this legend may have originated from the red squirrel's habit of giving a "scolding alarm call in response to danger", which some Norsemen may have imagined as insults.[50]

In Irish mythology, the goddess Medb is said to always have a bird perched on one shoulder and a squirrel on the other, serving as her messengers to the sky and the earth respectively.[52] In Europe during the Middle Ages, squirrels were sometimes used in bestiaries as symbols of greed and avarice on account of their storing of nuts,[52] but, in the nineteenth century, British natural history books often praised them as thrifty for this same reason.[52] A myth told by the Ainu people of Japan holds that squirrels are the discarded sandals of the ancestral deity Aioina, possibly because squirrels move in spurts like footsteps.[52] The Kalevala, a Finnish epic poem collected in the nineteenth century but rooted in much older oral tradition, contains references to squirrels, including mention of a white squirrel being born of a virgin.[50]

Literary references to squirrels include the works of Beatrix Potter, Brian Jacques' Redwall series (including Jess Squirrel and numerous other squirrels), Pattertwig in C. S. Lewis' Prince Caspian, Michael Tod's Woodstock Saga of novels featuring squirrel communities in the style of Watership Down, and the Starwife and her subjects from Robin Jarvis's Deptford novels. The title character in Miriam Young's 1964 children's book Miss Suzy is a squirrel.

Anthropomorphic red squirrels were used in British road safety campaigns between the 1950s and 1980s.[53]

An episode of the radio program This American Life called "Squirrel Cop" describes the unintentionally humorous misadventure of a newly hired policeman in trying to remove a frantic squirrel from a homeowner's living room, which results in personal injury and a small fire.[54] First aired in 1998,[55] this episode turned out to be one of the most popular ones of the series,[56] prompting rebroadcasts and a lead position on the two-CD compilation Crimebusters + Crossed Wires: Stories from This American Life.

Albino and white squirrels

One of the ways that squirrels affect human society is inspired by the fascination that people seem to have over local populations of white squirrels (often misidentified as being albino).[57] This manifests itself by the creation of social group communities that form from a commonly shared interest in these rare animals. Other impacts on human society inspired by white squirrels include the creation of organizations that seek to protect them from human predation, and the use of the white squirrel image as a cultural icon.

Although these squirrels are commonly referred to as "albinos", most of them are likely non-albino squirrels that exhibit a rare white fur coloration known as leucism that is as a result of a recessive gene found within certain eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) populations, and so technically they ought to be referred to as white squirrels, instead of albino.[57][58]

A project run by Untamed Science is seeking to report and document the occurrence of both white squirrels, albinos, and other piebald morphs. Users are encouraged to submit their sightings.[59]

  • A true albino squirrel. Note the pink eyes.
    A true albino squirrel. Note the pink eyes.
  • Albino squirrel head on, showing blue irises
    Albino squirrel head on, showing blue irises
  • A leucistic squirrel. Note the non-pink eyes.
    A leucistic squirrel. Note the non-pink eyes.

Local pride

Welcome sign for Kenton, Tennessee, an example of competition for "White Squirrel Capital".

Olney, Illinois, known as the "White Squirrel Capital of the World", is home of the world's largest known white squirrel colony. These squirrels have the right of way on all streets in the town, with a $500 fine for hitting one. The Olney Police Department features the image of a white squirrel on its officers' uniform patches.[60]

Along with Olney, there are four other towns in North America that avidly compete with each other to be the official "Home of the White Squirrel", namely: Marionville, Missouri; Brevard, North Carolina; Exeter, Ontario; and Kenton, Tennessee, each of which holds an annual white squirrel festival, among other things designed to promote their claim of "White Squirrel Capital".[61]

A list of white squirrel sightings around the world is maintained by the White Squirrel Research Institute, a group based in Brevard, North Carolina.[62]

Other towns that have reported white squirrel populations in North America (although not necessarily competing to be the "official" white squirrel capital) include

Trinity Bellwoods[66] neighborhood of Toronto
, Ontario is locally known for white squirrel sightings.

Campus populations

In addition to the various towns that boast of their white squirrel populations, a number of university campuses in North America have white squirrels. The

University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire has a significant white squirrel population both on the campus and in other areas of the city of Eau Claire. Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan is home to frequently sighted white squirrels that live on and around the campus.[71] A Facebook
group dedicated to these squirrels, called I've Seen the Albino Squirrel of Michigan Tech, was created for people to post photographs and anecdotes of their encounters with the white squirrels, and includes some stories from Michigan Tech alumni that recall seeing white squirrels in Houghton dating back to the 1930s.

In Kentucky, the University of Louisville has established its own chapter of the Albino Squirrel Preservation Society, which maintains contact with its members and interested parties through a Facebook group by that name. The university has an open policy to give away a free t-shirt to anyone who takes a photograph of a white squirrel on campus grounds and brings it to the administration offices.[72]

Other university campuses that have albino squirrel populations include Oberlin College in Ohio,[73] Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio,[74] Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky (which has had a population of albino squirrels since the 1960s),[57] and Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio.[citation needed]

Michael Stokes, a biology professor at Western Kentucky University, commented that the probable cause for the abundance of white squirrels on university campuses was because they were originally introduced by someone: "We're not sure how they got here, but I'll tell you how it usually happens...When you see them, especially around a college campus or parks, somebody brought them in because they thought it would be neat to have white squirrels around."[57]

Albert Meier, another biology professor at Western Kentucky University, added that: "... white squirrels rarely survive in the wild because they can't easily hide. But on a college campus, they are less likely to be consumed by other animals."[57]

In folklore

A story in which a

Northeast Thailand.[75]

Red and grey squirrels in the UK

Red squirrel at a feeding tray in the Lake District, England.

A decline of the

squirrel parapoxvirus for which no vaccine is currently available, and which is deadly to red squirrels but does not seem to affect the non-native host.[77]


coniferous forests in Scotland, and in England's Formby, the Lake District, Brownsea Island, and the Isle of Wight. The majority of England's red squirrels are found in the county of Northumberland. Special measures are in place to contain and remove any infiltration of grey squirrels into these areas. Though the population has dramatically decreased, they remain listed on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern.[citation needed

As of 2008, the eastern gray squirrel was regarded as vermin and it was illegal to release any into the wild; any caught could be released only if one applied for and was granted a licence to do so.[78] As of 2015, any caught in Scotland had to be humanely killed.[79]

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Further reading

External links