15 Nuttily Amazing Fun Facts About Squirrels
Are you a fan of these cute nut-munching critters? Go out a limb and try these amazingly interesting squirrel facts! Who knows, there might be more to squirrels than you realise!
When you think of squirrels, do you think of those furry grey things that live in the park? Well - there's a lot more to these cheeky rodents than just the ones you see eating peanuts by the swings! You see, there are actually almost 300 different species of squirrel, and each one is a really important part of food webs. Some are surprisingly clever, some have a habit of eating power cables, and some can even fly! So read on to learn all about squirrels with this list of amazing squirrel facts!
1. Some squirrels are really big
The biggest squirrel in the world is the Indian Giant Squirrel, and it definitely lives up to it's name! It can be up to half a metre long and weigh up to 3kg - just think how many nuts it can get through! This colourful rodent is also very snappily dressed, with a distinctive stripy coat that can include anything from whites, beiges, reds, even purples! We wish they had these in our local park!
2. Some squirrels are really small
Right at the other end of the squirrel size scale is the African pygmy squirrel - which is about 14cm long and weighs a puny 18 grams! Native to Cameroon and Western and Central Africa, this teensy squirrel is smaller than the average mouse! Unlike the Indian Giant Squirrel which lives high up in the trees, the African Pygmy squirrel prefers to forage round in the undergrowth and in lower branches.
3. Their front teeth never stop growing
A squirrels front four teeth are very special in that they're aways growing. This is to stop them getting totally worn down by all those tough nuts they gnaw on all the time. This is something all rodents have in common, whether it's mice, rats, ground hogs, prairie dogs - you name it. It's a very useful evolutionary trait if you eat nuts all day!
4. They're skilled thieves
If there's one thing you probably already know about squirrels it's that they're pretty good at finding food. In fact they'll grab dinner anywhere they can find it - even if it means stealing it from another squirrel! Squirrel experts (is that squirrelologists?) reckon squirrels could lose about 25% of their food to theft by other squirrels!
5. They've come up with a few clever tricks
If you were a squirrel and other squirrels kept pinching your lunch, what would you do? Squirrels have worked out a way of protecting their food by pretending to bury it - this throws off any would be rodent thieves and wastes their time! Squirrels have even been seen pretending to bury food in really dramatic ways, and doing it more often when they know other squirrels are watching. Very clever, and seems to work at least some of the time!
6. They're nut experts!
Squirrels know a lot about nuts! They can tell whether nuts are ripe or not just by their smell, and even weigh nuts in their paws when they pick them up. A nut that feels too light is likely to have been hollowed out already by weevils, so isn't worth the effort. Squirrels also remember lots of details about where nuts were found in the past, and use all their senses and memory to hunt them down. Pretty smart!
7. Squirrels are good communicators
Even though they steal each others food all the time, squirrels do look out for each other! If one of them senses danger they'll let out a shriek to warn other squirrels nearby. In fact, squirrels have a really complicated set of calls, and use everything "barks" to shout at rival squirrels, to "quacking" noises. We still don't know exactly what all their noises mean!
8. Their tails are amazing
Their tails are another way that squirrels can communicate with each other. If they feel threatened, squirrels will make their tails extra bushy! But that's not all their tails are good for, they can use them like a duvet in cold weather, and it helps them keep their balance when they're walking along narrow branches. Some scientists even think their tails are useful as a kind of parachute, that slows them down a little bit when they fall from trees. Very handy!
9. Oak trees love squirrels
You might think trees would find it annoying that squirrels are always eating all their acorns - but actually the opposite is true! Squirrels are really important animals for oak trees. These furry friends bury huge numbers of acorns in the forest - often carrying them a long way in the process. Where this benefits the tree is that they only come back to eat about 70% of them - probably because they forgot where they were buried! This means a lot of acorns end up growing into new oak trees because they've been helpfully planted by forgetful squirrels!
10. Baby squirrels are tiny!
Newborn squirrels are only about 2.5cm long! They're also very vulnerable, and are born totally blind and naked. They have to be cared for around the clock by their mother, who builds a nest high up in the trees, away from predators. Squirrel mothers seem to be very caring a lot of the time, and will even sometimes adopt other baby squirrels that have been orphaned!
11. Squirrels shut down the stock market twice
Squirrels have a habit of gnawing through cables - something that has ended in major power outages in the past! Every year squirrels are responsible for hundreds of power cuts, and have taken out power to lots of big buildings, even shutting down the NASDAQ stock market TWICE in 1987 and 1994! That's two more times than hackers ever did! You just can't stop squirrels!
12. Squirrel City!
Prairie dogs - a close relative of the squirrel - are so sociable that they all hang out in "cities" made up of huge numbers of rodents over hundreds of miles. Prairie dogs have complex communiation systems, which is really amazing seeing how big the biggest one ever was! The biggest colony recorded was in Texas, and was made up of around 400 million prairie dogs. That's more prairie dogs than humans in the biggest human cities! Amazing!
13. American squirrels are pests in the UK
The Eastern Grey squirrel from the USA is a lovely looking animal and very good at survival - in fact, a little bit too good at it! Grey squirrels have taken over in the UK and pushed out the native European Red Squirrel, which is now a vulnerable species. Grey squirrels are classed as a pest in the UK and are invasive in other parts of the world too - especially Australia which has no native squirrels at all. It's easy to be annoyed at grey squirrels, but really it's the fault of humans for introducing them to all these different places. Squirrels just do what squirrels do best!
14. Some squirrels can fly!
Well... sort of. Flying squirrels technically glide, rather than fly. These amazing animals have a large flap of furry skin hanging beneath each arm, which they spread out when they leap from tree to tree. The skin flap works like a hang glider, and allows them to soar anywhere from up to 150 metres! They can even steer midair by raising and lowering their arms. Amazing!
15. Many squirrels are in trouble
Squirrels are a really important part of food webs, and are a key ingredient of many habitats on Earth. They help plants (like oak trees) and also provide food for predators. There are a lot of different kinds of squirrel, and many are in trouble from a dangerous mix of climate change, deforestation or any of the other bad things us humans do. It's important to remember that all life on Earth is connected - so if you want to look after squirrels, you have to look after everything else in the natural world too!