Squirrels are some of the most delightful creatures to observe in the great outdoors. With their bushy tails and energetic antics, these nimble animals provide free entertainment for nature lovers everywhere. Though squirrels have adapted well to urban and suburban areas, they remain fascinating woodland creatures at heart.
Discover 14 intriguing facts about squirrels that will deepen your appreciation for these clever rodents. Learn about their physical features, behavior, history, and more with this collection of fascinating tidbits. Read on to uncover surprising insights about the curious lives of squirrels.
Squirrels belong to the Sciuridae family, which includes small mammals like chipmunks, prairie dogs, and marmots. There are over 200 species of squirrels in the world 1, with most types living in wooded habitats.
These bushy-tailed critters are mainly active during the day. Squirrels live solitary lives and are highly territorial. They are found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.
While some view squirrels as pests, they play an important ecological role. For example, squirrels help regenerate forests by burying nuts and seeds. Their forgotten caches grow into new trees over time.
Now let’s explore some of the most fascinating facts about these common yet captivating creatures.
1. Squirrels Communicate Through Body Language and Sounds
Squirrels don’t just rely on vocalizations to communicate. They also use body language and sounds from their feet.
Tail flicking, body posture shifts, and feet stomping all convey messages. Squirrels also make various barks, squeaks, and rattles to interact with each other.
Their sharp claws let squirrels produce chatter sounds by scraping tree bark. This helps deter rivals and predators.
2. They Have Misleading Names
The name ‘flying squirrel’ is very misleading. These squirrels glide instead of fly.
They spread out skin flaps between their limbs to glide long distances between trees. But flying squirrels cannot achieve true powered flight.
Similarly, ground squirrels don’t always live underground. Many ground squirrel species actually spend considerable time above ground.
3. Squirrels Play a Role in Reforestation
Squirrels help regenerate forests by burying nuts and seeds. Though they try to find their buried treasures later, many are forgotten.
The unearthed nuts and seeds grow into trees over time. So while squirrels don’t intend to plant trees, they do so inadvertently.
Their forgetfulness shapes forest composition by dispersing seeds and allowing new trees to sprout.
4. They Have Sharp Vision
A squirrel’s eyes are located high and wide apart on its head. This gives them nearly 360° vision.
Their excellent eyesight helps detect approaching predators from any direction. It also assists with navigating safely through treetops.
Plus, sharp vision allows squirrels to spot delicious nuts and seeds to eat or cache for later. Their eye placement is key for survival.
5. Squirrels Use Deceptive Tactics
To fool thieves, squirrels pretend to bury nuts by digging empty holes then covering them back up. They don’t deposit any food in these fake caches.
This deceptive tactic is known as “caching without reward.” It helps keep other animals from stealing squirrels’ buried treasure.
Squirrels also move in zigzags to disguise their escape path from predators. Their evasive maneuvers make them hard to catch.
6. They Have Ankle Flexibility
A squirrel can rotate its hind ankles a full 180° 2. This allows it to climb head-first down trees with ease.
Their flexible ankle joints let squirrels hang upside down by their hind legs. This comes in handy when foraging for food high up in trees.
A squirrel’s ability to descend trees head-first gives it a quick escape route from predators. The maneuver also minimizes fall impacts.
7. Squirrels Help Oak Trees Thrive
Oak trees and squirrels have an ancient partnership. Squirrels eat acorns and bury many more than they retrieve.
Forgotten acorns grow into oak trees, which provide habitat and food for future generations of squirrels.
By spreading and planting acorn seeds, squirrels help sustain oak forests. The trees return the favor with nourishment.
8. They Have Constantly Growing Incisors
A squirrel’s four front teeth never stop growing. Their incisors can grow up to six inches per year.
The teeth grow continuously to compensate for all the wear squirrels put on them. Hard nuts, seeds, and bark grind them down.
Constant gnawing on tough foods keeps the teeth naturally trimmed. Otherwise, they would eventually overgrow and prevent eating.
9. Squirrels Help Control Insect Populations
While nuts and seeds are a squirrel’s main diet, they also eat caterpillars, eggs, and other small critters.
By preying on insects like tree beetles and caterpillars, squirrels help keep bug populations in check. This protects trees from excessive insect damage.
So squirrels indirectly benefit trees by controlling the number of insects that can potentially harm them.
10. They Have Highly Tactile Paws
A squirrel relies heavily on the sense of touch from its paws. The paws’ hairless soles are packed with nerve endings.
Their super-sensitive paws help squirrels gather information and feedback. This aids in climbing, foraging, and caching.
Paws also help squirrels assess food. The animals can feel ripeness and detect subtle vibrations indicating hollow nuts.
11. Squirrels Have Impressive Jumping Skills
With strong hind legs and lightweight bodies, squirrels can leap incredible distances.
They can spread their legs and spring over 10 times their body length horizontally. That’s double an Olympic long jumper’s range.
Vertical leaps are equally impressive. Squirrels can free fall over 30 feet to the ground without injury. They land with precision after falling from the treetops.
12. Some Squirrels Are Crepuscular
Crepuscular animals are most active during twilight hours at dawn and dusk. Many squirrels fall into this category.
Tree squirrels and flying squirrels tend to avoid the heat of midday. They forage most actively early and late in the day.
Their crepuscular behavior likely reduces encounters with nocturnal predators. It may also help squirrels find food when competitors are less active.
13. Squirrels Played a Role in the American Revolution
Squirrels once posed an agricultural nuisance, raiding colonial crops. To reduce squirrel overpopulation, colonists became expert marksmen hunting them.
When the Revolutionary War began, these skilled squirrel hunters used their sharpshooting skills to target British soldiers. The squirrels helped colonists gain an edge.
So while seen as pests, squirrels indirectly aided the American Revolution by improving colonists’ shooting abilities.
14. They Help Control Lyme Disease
Small mammals like squirrels help check Lyme disease. How? They support predators that prey on Lyme-carrying deer ticks.
When squirrel populations decline, tick-eating predators also diminish. This causes a spike in tick numbers and boosts disease risk.
So robust squirrel numbers keep predator populations strong, which in turn reduces ticks and curbs Lyme disease.
Squirrels are far more interesting than many people realize. They play a vital ecological role with tree growth, insect control, and disease regulation.
These captivating creatures also wow us with their intelligence. Squirrels avoid predators through clever tactics and nimble movements.
With so many intriguing facts about squirrels, it’s clear they deserve more appreciation. Next time you see one, take a moment to admire its bushy tail and lively antics.