Everyone knows about squirrels, and you might think there is nothing interesting to be learned about them. There are some unexpected facts that most people don’t know:
Squirrels are Diverse
We’re all familiar with the usual black, gray or maybe red squirrels running around in our backyards, and tend to think of them as pretty plain animals. In fact, there are nearly 300 different species of squirrels and they are found all around the world, except for Australia and Antarctica. Through the United States, you likely see the American red squirrel or the Eastern gray squirrel. Ironically, the black squirrel is actually just a color variation of the gray squirrel.
Worldwide, the smallest squirrel is the African pygmy squirrel (4 inches long) and the largest is the Indian giant squirrel (up to 3 feet). Both of those sizes include the tails too. Within the squirrel family, from a biological point of view, are other familiar animals like groundhogs, chipmunks and prairie dogs.
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Squirrels are Athletes
Most people are generally familiar with the agile antics of squirrels, but probably don’t know just how athletic they really are. They can leap more than 20 feet and their leg and ankle joints are designed in such a way that they can climb forwards and backward up a tree with no problem. Their keen eyesight means you can judge their jumps pretty well, but if they miss the target, they can fall up to 90 feet and not be seriously injured. Their puffy tail acts as a bit of a parachute to help with that.
We tend to think of squirrels as lovers of nuts and bird seed, and that does make up most of their diet. Most squirrels eat a more varied diet though, including fruit, all kinds of different seeds, bulbs, bark, garden vegetables and more. The surprise is that they also go for insects, eggs, and even small reptiles or other rodents. Not all species are exactly the same in their diet choices. Flying squirrels, in particular, eat a lot of eggs and even some smaller nestling birds as they glide from tree to tree.
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Smart and Social
Squirrels are very social animals, which is one reason why they tend to have little fear of people and will spend time around your house (hopefully not inside). They often live in social groups or extended families and use a complex system of calls and tail twitches to communicate with others. This can also include warning calls when predators are near. Their clever ways are well known, but did you know they will intentionally pretend to hide nuts, to fool other squirrels so they won’t find the real stash?