Peter is an independent international zoo consultant, critic and writer with over 50 years of work within zoos.
National Squirrel Appreciation Day was first created in 2001 and takes place on the 21st January each year. As Squirrels are found on every continent except Antarctica and Australia* (see further note) it makes sense to make it an International event. In the UK it is the same date as Red Squirrel Appreciation Day.
The Squirrels Sciuridae consists of around 300 species which are broken down into a number of genera and sub families which includes Marmots, Prairie Dogs, Flying Squirrels and Chipmunks.
Although Squirrels can sometimes be a nuisance they are amongst natures important gardeners, planting forests. Today they are under threat as forests are being felled.
The Red Squirrel
The Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris occurs widely across Eurasia. It is only under any immediate threat where the North American Grey Squirrel Sciurus carolinensis has been introduced, this being the UK, Italy and Ireland. The Grey Squirrel carries the parapox virus for which the Red Squirrel has no immunity.
In the last century the Red Squirrel was so widely hunted in Scotland that it nearly disappeared. The population was revived by the introduction of Red Squirrels from Scandanavia.
Wild Red Squirrels will normally live around three years whereas eight to ten years is the norm in captivity.
Many British children will first become familiar with Squirrels from the tales of Squirrel Nutkin in Beatrix Potter books.
The Biggest Squirrel - the Hoary Marmot
The Hoary Marmot Marmota caligata is probably the biggest squirrel. It may reach a weight of 30 pounds.
Some Interesting Squirrel Facts
1/ The most Northerly Squirrel is the Arctic Ground Squirrel Urocitellus parryii wide ranging in the Arctic and Sub Arctic. This Squirrel has the longest hibernation of any mammal. This can last three quarters of a year.
2/ The most Southerly Squirrel species is probably the Pallas's Squirrel also known as the Asiatic Red-Bellied Tree Squirrel Callosciurus erythraeus which was introduced to Argentina in the 1970's. *Another contender for the most Southerly as an introduced species is the Northern Palm Squirrel Funambulus pennantii which occurs around Perth in Western Australia.
3/ The heaviest tree Squirrel is the Red and White Flying Squirrel Petaurista alborufus from China and Taiwan. It may reach up to 9.5 lbs in weight and reach four feet in length including its tail.
4/ The smallest Squirrel is the African pygmy squirrel Myosciurus pumilio. Measuring around 4.5 to 5 inches it weighs just 0.53–0.63 oz.
5/ The most colorful Squirrel is the Indian Malabar giant squirrel Ratufa indica.
6/ The Vampire Squirrel from Borneo is now more popularly known as the Bornean Tufted Ground Squirrel Rheithrosciurus macrotis which was, so legend had it, able to attack and devour creatures many times its size. Today we know this is not true and that its rather specialized died to feed upon extremely hard nuts C. decumanum and M. leptopoda that other creatures are unable to break into. This Squirrel has the fluffiest tail of all the Squirrel species.
7/ Ratatoskr is a legendry Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris messenger of the Gods in Viking mythology. Living on the World tree of life since time immemorial it has run up and down generally causing mischief. The character has commonly appeared in some comics.
8/ The normal lifespan of a Squirrel is from six to ten years in the wild. In captivity it may be considerably longer. A Grey Squirrel Sciurus carolinensis held by Racine Zoo in the US lived for 23 years and 6 months.
9/ Squirrels can leap ten times their body length and Flying Squirrels Pteromyini or Petauristini may glide as far as 300 to 500 feet
10/ Back in 2007 the Iranian army apprehended a team of 14 "spy squirrels" found close to a nuclear enrichment plant. Authorities said they were able to deal with the suspects "before they were able to take any action".
VAMPIRE SQUIRREL THAT HUNTS DEER
The Grey Squirrel
The Grey Squirrel Sciurus carolinensis is naturally found in the USA where is is widespread. Some of its range has been extended there by deliberate introductions where it is a threat to local squirrel populations.
The Grey Squirrel was first introduced to the United Kingdom in the 1870's. Since then as an invasive species it has spread widely displacing the native Red Squirrel. The two species have a similar diet and can often be seen feeding quite close to each other. It is not competition for food that is the problem but that the Greys transmit Squirrel Pox for which the Red Squirrel has no immunity and Greys are rarely affected.
Within the UK if a Grey Squirrel is 'rescued' it must not be released again and neither should it be bred. Legislation requires that it should be humanely euthanized. There is quite stringent legislation against the Import of Grey Squirrels to anywhere within the European Union.
The Grey Squirrel was deliberately introduced into Italy where it has become an economic problem. Efforts to eradicate were thwarted by Animal Rights Groups and now the issue has been magnified with the Grey Squirrel moving into surrounding countries.
The Grey Squirrel has been introduced into a number of other countries but did not do well or was successfully eradicated in the case of Australia.
In South Africa it is localized and common around Western Cape.
More (because I write of other things)