More quirky squirrel facts

Don’t we all just love squirrels? These rodents have such cute, big round eyes, bushy tails, and have been featuring in many movies as adorable characters.

In the movie Ice Age, the character Scrat is a saber-toothed squirrel forever running after the evasive acorn. We all feel the sadness when he loses the acorn yet again, which makes us wonder – do squirrels do this in the wild as well, and why do we love these adorable animals?

Squirrels love eating various nuts, fruits and seeds, and they also enjoy eating insects and worms, which make them omnivores. It is said that certain squirrels hang mushrooms in trees to dry out to eat later. They collect food for the winter months, which they hide in places or bury in the ground. Unfortunately, for squirrels, they don’t always remember where they hid all their food – causing more trees to grow from the buried seeds than what they intended. In a way, it is a good thing, because most squirrels live and nest in trees.

Species

There are about 280 species of squirrels and they can be found all over the world, except in Australia. These mammals have big, round eyes and pointed ears, with four front teeth that never stops growing, which is a great help, as these rodents are always nibbling. They have excellent reflexes and are energetic, not sitting still for a moment and jumping from branch to branch, or running fast on the ground. Their double-jointed hind legs are longer than their forelegs, and there are many different colours of coats to be seen globally.

Numbers

280 – The approximate number of species

2 to 8 – The number of babies born at a time

7 to 10cm – The length of the African pygmy squirrel

91cm – The length of the Indian giant squirrel

1 to 2 – Breeding periods a year

 

South Africa has four types of squirrels:

  1. Striped ground squirrel
  2. Cape ground squirrel
  3. Damara ground squirrel
  4. Unstriped ground squirrel

Breeding

While some species of squirrels stay and nest in trees, others dwell in underground tunnels. Female squirrels give birth to litters that range between two and eight kittens at a time, and can have several litters a year. Nests are made up from twigs and leaves and can be up to 30cm wide.

The kittens are born blind, without coats and teeth, and will suckle up to three months. In the wild, the average lifespan of a squirrel ranges between five and 10 years, if they make it through their first year.

Enemies

These energetic little creatures try to confuse their enemies when they sense danger. They might stand dead still for a short while, and will then almost certainly climb the nearest tree they can find. On the ground, the squirrel will run in erratic patterns to confuse the enemy, which could be hawks, snakes, owls and jackals.

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