Squirrel is the common name for rodents of the family Sciuridae (from Greek skia shadow and oura tail i.e. "tail that casts a shadow"). In everyday speech in the English-speaking world it usually refers to members of the genera Sciurus and Tamiasciurus. more...
These typical members of the family are tree squirrels with large bushy tails, and are native to Europe, Asia and the Americas. Similar genera are found in Africa. However, the Sciuridae also include flying squirrels, and ground squirrels such as the chipmunks, prairie dogs, and woodchucks. The unrelated family Anomaluridae also have "squirrel" in their common name, though they are usually referred to as "scaly-tailed flying squirrels".
A male is a buck. A female is a doe. Babies are kits (male) or kittens (female), and collectively pups. Squirrels also nest; these nests are called dreys, which may also refer to a group of squirrels.
Typical squirrels include the European Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris, the Fox Squirrel S. niger, the Eastern Gray Squirrel S. carolinensis, the Western Gray Squirrel S. griseus, and the American Red Squirrel Tamiasciurus hudsonicus.
The "Black Squirrel" is actually a variant of the Eastern Gray Squirrel. Although considered rare in many areas, it is the dominant variety in most of Ontario, Quebec, and certain areas of the Northeastern United States. It is thought that the black variant developed its dark coat to better absorb heat in colder climates. In the United Kingdom, a colony of black squirrels has existed around the town of Letchworth Garden City for many years.
The Red Squirrel populations in Britain, Ireland, and, more recently, northern Italy, have declined and become regionally extinct in recent decades, primarily because of competition from Gray Squirrels (introduced from North America), but also habitat loss. Conservation efforts include preserving and planting the conifer forests that Red Squirrels prefer. The recent colonisation of mainland Europe from Italy by Gray Squirrels is expected to result ultimately in the extinction of the Red Squirrel over most of Europe.
Diet and feeding behaviour
One well-known trait of some species of squirrel is the gathering and storing of nuts for the winter. These squirrels are scatter-hoarders, i.e. they will gather nuts and store them in any accessible hiding place, usually by burying them. Recent research shows that they have excellent memories for the locations of these caches.
Despite the popular impression, squirrels are actually omnivores; as well as eating a wide variety of plant food, including nuts, seeds, fruits, fungi (for example, mushrooms), and green vegetation, they also eat insects, eggs, and even small birds, smaller mammals, and frogs. There has even been a report of squirrels eating dogs.
Squirrels are generally clever and persistent animals; in residential neighborhoods they are notorious for eating out of bird feeders, digging in potted plants either to bury or recover food, and for setting up house in sheltered areas including attics. While many companies sell bird feeders which are supposedly "squirrel-proof", most of them in fact are not.
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