Squirrels have a large variety of roles to play in any environment. They are an extremely diverse group of animals, and in fact have their own day of appreciation (January 21). They’ve been called both a nuisance and a keystone species, so here are a few facts about squirrels and you can decide for yourself.
20 Facts about Squirrels
1. There are around 280 different species of squirrel
Squirrels are found on every continent except Antarctica and Australia. The largest is found in India, which can grow up to 3 feet long!
2. Squirrels are born blind
Young squirrels, like many mammals, are completely helpless when they’re born. They’ll stay with their mother for almost 12 weeks before going off to be independent, although some Spring-born babies will stay with her until the second litter in August.
3. Chipmunks are a type of small squirrel with stripes
We may not usually think of chipmunks as a kind of squirrel, but they’re part of that family! The “squirrel” name also includes many unique species around the world, such as the African Pygmy squirrel, which is the smallest species of squirrel in the world with a size as small as 1.8 inches long.
4. Squirrels can find buried food beneath a foot of snow
Food is especially important during the cold winter months for squirrels. Their noses are so powerful that they can find the location of this “buried treasure” under almost a foot of snow. They’ll then dig a tunnel and follow the scent to the stash!
5. Their front teeth never stop growing
This is common for many other rodents as well – in fact “rodent” comes from Latin “rodere”, meaning “to gnaw”. This is very important because biting on nuts and other objects wears down teeth, which are necessary for their diet,
6. They lose a lot of buried food to thieves
Many squirrels are called scatter hoarders, where they’ll have multiple caches of food buried and hidden throughout the forest. Many fellow squirrels and birds take advantage of this for a free meal. It’s been estimated they lose about 25% of all they bury to other squirrels.
7. They zigzag away from predators
One of squirrels biggest predators are birds of prey. This pattern is especially effective against them, as it requires them to make tighter turns, and also works against animals such as foxes and dogs as well.
8. They’ll pretend to hide food
Squirrels have been observed in performing “deceptive caching” where they’ll dig a hole, vigorously cover it up, and then leave without depositing the nut! This is believed to be done to throw off any potential thieves.
9. Newborns are about an inch long
Squirrels won’t reach their full adult size until they’re approximately 14 weeks old. Until then, they’ll learn survival skills by play fighting with their siblings and following their mother on foraging trips.
10. Humans introduced squirrels to most major city parks
The Eastern Gray Squirrel is the most common species to be found in city parks. They were actually introduced to metropolitan areas in the 1870s along with certain starlings and sparrows in an effort to bring nature back into cities. By 1902, estimates suggest there were more than 1,000 squirrels in Central Park alone.
11. They’re incredibly intelligent and adaptable
Squirrels are considered a nuisance to people with bird feeders, as they always seem to have an uncanny knack for getting into places they shouldn’t. Their specialty is finding shortcuts, such as jumping directly onto suspended birdfeeders from trees.
12. They get bulky to stay warm during the winter
During the colder winter months, it’s important to stay warm and keep body heat up. Squirrels have accomplished this by putting on some extra weight beforehand and living off of those personal stores along with their buried caches.
13. They plant trees
Squirrels have accidentally contributed hundreds of trees to our nation’s forests. They’ll bury a cache and sometimes it just won’t get found, leading to a new sapling and helping spread trees seeds across acres. It’s estimated that 30% of their stored nuts are never found and eventually turn into healthy trees.
14. They can leap 10 times their body length
Squirrels have long, muscular hind legs paired with short front legs made for gripping in order to make these death-defying jumps. Padding on their feet also helps to cushion their landing.
15. They can turn their ankles 180 degrees
This helps them to face any direction when climbing, even straight down a tree trunk! This is also known as being double-jointed and allows them to move very quickly with plenty of agility.
16. A male squirrel can smell a female in heat from up to a mile away
During the mating season, males will either chase after the female or compete with other males for her affection. They usually mate twice a year – once during the summertime and once towards the end of winter and the beginning of spring.
17. They have 4 toes on their front feet and 5 toes on their back
These toes have extremely sharp nails that are used to grip tree bark while climbing. It’s believed this discrepancy is to help with jumping and climbing, as they need more traction on their hind legs for liftoff.
18. Squirrels can eat their own body weight each week
That’s approximately 1.5 pounds a week! That would be comparable to a 150 pound human eating a large hamburger for every meal, every single week!
19. They can fall unharmed from 30 meters high
Their tail is used for both balance and as a parachute! It fluffs out as they fall, catching air, slowing their fall, and allowing them to usually grab onto another tree or a branch. This isn’t even including the flying squirrels that have the ability to glide from tree to tree.
20. They can run up to 20 miles per hour!
Granted, most squirrels won’t need this – they tend to prefer to run at an average speed of 10 miles per hour. They can’t keep this speed up for especially long, instead choosing to run up a tree, zigzag, or dive into logs to hide.