If 2020 has taught us anything, perhaps it is to revel in the small joys of life. This year, National Squirrel Appreciation Day is on 21st January. It was conceived ten years ago by Christy Hargrove, a rehabilitation specialist, with the aim of changing the increasingly unforgiving attitudes shown towards the bushy-tailed creatures. With all this in mind let us take a closer look at these remarkable tiny animals.
Squirrels belong to the Sciuridae family which makes them a cousin of the chipmunk and prairie dogs. With over 200 different species their size can vary a lot! From the smallest African Pygmy, at five inches long, to the Indian Giant squirrel which is an enormous 36 inches from nose to tail.
Nuts About Nuts
While we may all be aware of squirrels’ love affair with acorns and other nuts it may come as a surprise to find out that most are omnivores, equally enjoying an entrée of insects – they’re especially fond of caterpillars!
Why the long tail?
There is no mistaking the twitchy feather boa that perfectly complements their character, but a squirrel’s tail serves as a lot more than simply a fashion statement. A squirrel uses its tail as a counterbalance to aid jumps between trees and it also doubles as a parachute that helps soften their journey to the ground. When it’s raining, the squirrel uses its tail as a little umbrealla to keep dry and in hot weather the tail swells with blood to reduce their body temperature. Perhaps the most interesting and certainly the most endearing fact is that squirrels will often use their tails as a tool with which to signal to other squirrels. Signs to look for include a wagging tail which warns of danger and a trembling tail that indicates a squirrel of the opposite sex is nearby!
Red vs Grey
The biggest war within the squirrel kingdom is the one waged between the houses of the red and the grey squirrel. The more robust of the two, the grey squirrel, has long been demonised for its part in the decline in the red squirrel population. However, it is important to remember that their presence is only a contributing factor not the main threat. The main reason for the red squirrels’ decline is mostly due to habitat loss.
In the 2005 remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for the squirrel scene, the squirrels were not computer graphics, but were actually real life and were professionally trained by The Nut Room Animal trainer Michael Alexander and his team who spent 19 weeks training these squirrels for this one scene.