The gray squirrel is a very cute and cute rodent. Squirrels are distributed all over the world, it is a pleasure to watch them. In city parks, they come close to a person and take a treat from their hands, they especially like nuts. Watching squirrels helps to relax and relieve stress in modern man.
Origin of the species and description
The Eastern or Carolina gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) came to us in Europe from North America. Initially, these squirrels were brought to the British Isles in the middle of the 19th century. Gradually, this species spread throughout Europe and Russia, found in forests, parks, plantings, in the Russian taiga and forest-steppe regions.
The ancestors of the gray squirrel were called Iscbyromyides, which evolved later into Sciurides, lived in North America for more than 40 million years ago. Modern rodents, ground squirrels, American and Japanese flying squirrels and prairie dogs originated from this species. Modern look «Common squirrel» Sciurus vulgaris is only about 3 million years old.
Video: Gray squirrel
As pets, squirrels were brought up in the days of Ancient Rome. In mythology, legends and fairy tales of India and Germany, the squirrel occupies a special place. For example, in the German god Donar, the squirrel was considered a sacred animal, thanks to a fiery coat. And in Indian legends, the squirrel had the power to drain the whole ocean with its tail.
The name “squirrel” in Greek means “shadow, tail”, which is very suitable for this nimble and agile animal that moves like lightning, leaving only a shadow because of the fluffy tail. In Latin, the gray squirrel sounds like Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). In ancient Russian texts, the squirrel was referred to as «veksha».
The rapid spread was facilitated by the absence of predators that would prey on them as in North America. The climate in Europe is milder, winters are warmer, so the animals actively breed and capture new territories. The Eastern (grey) squirrel can be found on every continent except Australia and countries with a Mediterranean climate.
Appearance and Features
The gray squirrel has a long and muscular body, short legs with long claws, and there are no tassels on the tips of the ears, unlike the red squirrel. The hind legs have five fingers, and the front ones only four, which helps it jump from branch to branch faster. Long claws allow her to hold on tightly and not fall from a great height of a tree.
The weight of an adult individual is about 1000 g, the body length is 32 cm, they are larger and more aggressive than their relatives – red squirrels. At present, it has almost ousted them from their natural habitat. The color is from light ash to dark gray, and the abdomen is white, there is a golden and red color on the paws. Outwardly, it is impossible to distinguish a male from a female, the animals look exactly the same.
Interesting fact: The long tail is 2/3 of its body length and helps it to jump long distances. The tail is a protection against cold, heat and helps to keep balance. A jump six meters long is not at all the limit of the physical capabilities of a gray squirrel. In winter and summer, the squirrel sheds and the coat changes.
Preparing for winter, the squirrel eats a lot, accumulates fat, depending on the season, the fur becomes thicker and warmer. The average duration of a squirrel is about five years, some individuals live up to twelve years, but only in captivity. In the Northern regions, where conditions are harsher, squirrels live less, many individuals die from cold and disease.
The gray squirrel is very active, it is constantly moving in search of food. She has large and widely spaced eyes, due to their location on the muzzle, the animal has a wide viewing angle, so she sees the danger perfectly. Because of the beautiful fur, the squirrel becomes an object for hunting and fishing. Young fur is especially prized.
Where does the gray squirrel live?
As a habitation, the squirrel prefers to settle in mixed or coniferous forests, preferably with a large area . One squirrel can cover an area of up to 4 hectares. Feels best in the temperate climate zone. They cannot be found in flat and desert areas, they avoid open spaces.
On the surface of the earth, the squirrel feels uneasy, therefore, at the slightest rustle, it runs into the trees. As a home, the gray squirrel chooses hollow or abandoned bird nests. If there is no suitable place, then it can build an open-type nest, in a fork in the branches. In gardens or parks, she can settle in a birdhouse.
In the hot time of the day, it prefers to sleep in a cool nest, and in the early morning and evening they get food. The gray squirrel avoids direct sunlight and dampness. It is a diurnal animal, active only during daylight hours. Many squirrels live close to people, who often feed them in special feeders.
What does the gray squirrel eat?
The gray squirrel is an omnivore, like most rodents .
Their main diet is:
shoots of young trees;
During the mating season, their need for protein increases, so they can eat a frog, eggs, or a young chick. If hunger sets in, the squirrel becomes a pest: it eats the bark and shoots of young trees, contributing to their death. If there are fields with wheat, corn nearby, bulbs are dug out of the ground. Even flower beds are under threat, squirrels can feast on flowers if they are attracted by the sweet aroma of nectar.
In winter, the gray squirrel stocks up for the winter. The survival rate of proteins in the cold period depends on their number. They hide their reserves among the branches, bury them near the roots of trees, hide them in tree hollows. These are all kinds of berries, dried mushrooms, seeds, cones. If someone finds her hiding place earlier, the squirrel may not survive the harsh winter.
Squirrels have a good memory for caches, but sometimes they don't come back for them, and so help spread the seeds. This is how whole groves of oaks and maples appear, thanks to the forgetfulness of the squirrel. The calorie content of a squirrel's diet differs depending on the season: in winter it eats about 80 grams of food per day, and in summer up to 40 grams.
Peculiarities of character and lifestyle
The gray squirrel has good memory, she is attentive and careful, are considered one of the smartest species of rodents. However, very often, she forgets her caches of supplies, which other rodents find and eat with pleasure. In the parks, many squirrels take food from human hands, but only young individuals are fully tamed.
Interesting fact: You should be careful when in contact with gray squirrels, they are carriers of smallpox, dangerous to humans. The proteins themselves are not susceptible to it. If the squirrel is in danger, it can bite the enemy painfully, using sharp teeth and scratching with claws.
Squirrels have very strong and healthy teeth. Her incisors grow all her life, so experts determine her age by her teeth. She gnaws a strong shell of nuts with her incisors. At the back of the mouth are the molars. If a squirrel's tooth breaks and wears off, a new one will grow in its place. This is its main difference from most mammals.
The gray squirrel is not able to accumulate large reserves of energy, it does not hibernate, so it must receive food several times every day. This is its weakness and vulnerability, because most mammals can go without food for a long time. With severe hunger, the squirrel can eat the bones of small dead animals.
The gray squirrel is a loner. She is not very aggressive towards neighbors, but she tries to avoid relatives. Aggression towards relatives is manifested only during the rut. It communicates with its relatives, making funny short sounds, and with the help of its tail, the squirrel shows its displeasure or aggression. She has an active lifestyle, all her free time she actively jumps from branch to branch.
In case of danger, it “clicks” loudly, notifying the entire district about it. It tries to avoid swampy areas, dampness, a very shy and cautious animal, afraid of thunderstorms, harsh noise. The gray squirrel, unlike the red squirrel, is not afraid of water at all, it swims well if there is a need or danger to life.
Social structure and reproduction
The gray squirrel gives birth two to three times a year. The female becomes sexually mature by the year of her life. The start of estrus begins with spring warmth. Males begin noisily courting the female, chasing her and playing catch-up for several days. During the rut, 3-4 males begin courtship around the female. Males attract attention by tapping their paws and champing loudly.
After numerous fights, the strongest and largest male remains, who becomes the father of her offspring. After mating, the male actively makes marks on the territory, and the female begins to build several nests at once. Inside them, she lines a soft bed of moss, making the nest safe and cozy.
The base of the nest for general strength is made of clay with mud. The nest has a main and emergency exit, so that in case of danger it is easy and quick to leave the nest. Pregnancy in a gray squirrel lasts up to 38 days. The squirrels are born blind, bald and very helpless, the mother is always near them and feeds her milk every 3-4 hours.
Usually, from three to ten squirrels are born, but only a few individuals survive from the brood. Their eyes open 2-3 weeks after birth. Most die out of curiosity, simply falling out of the nest, falling prey to predators.
Fun fact: The gray squirrel — very caring mother. If fleas or other parasites start in the nest, she transfers the offspring to another nest.
The squirrels become independent after the ninth week, they leave the nest and begin to get their own food on their own. However, they still live in the nest with their mother for some time.
Natural enemies of gray squirrels
This species still does not have so many enemies, which is the reason for the rapid settlement of Europe, as in other rodents. They are saved by the speed of movement, sensitive hearing and excellent reaction. You can catch a squirrel only on the ground, where it spends very little time. Most often, she becomes a victim of foxes and wolves, who patiently guard their prey. In the trees, martens, wild cats and lynx hunt for her.
In open areas, it is easy prey for birds of prey: eagle, falcon and kite. A crow or an ordinary domestic cat can steal small squirrels from the nest. The gray squirrel has developed its survival strategy over the generations. For example, by running up and down and in a spiral, it is very difficult for birds of prey to catch prey. And using thin branches for movement, the gray squirrel will easily run away from the marten.
The natural enemies of the gray (Caroline) squirrel in America are:
- grey foxes;
- young wolves;
- golden eagle;
- American marten;
As can be seen from the list, more than half of these predators are missing in Europe, which immediately affected the squirrel population. From the pursuer, she can easily break away in a jump for a long distance. A healthy and strong animal rarely gets into the teeth of a predator. Usually these are sick, weakened or very young squirrels. For resources and food, squirrels compete with chipmunks, mice, and hares. But close to humans, the squirrel has almost no enemies, predators are mostly afraid of people, except for cats.
Population and species status
Currently, the gray squirrel is not a protected or endangered species. This species, on the contrary, is actively spreading around the world, crowding out other types of squirrels. In some countries, they have become a real disaster, spoiling trees and destroying gardens. The squirrel population can only decrease if deforestation occurs. The number of squirrels may decrease with crop failure, fire or natural disaster.
In the UK, gray squirrels are actively exterminated and this is encouraged by law, using the hired labor of migrants. At the same time, the government is trying to save the red squirrels, which have practically disappeared in Scotland, England and Ireland. Unlike red squirrels, gray ones actively spoil flowers, steal eggs in poultry houses, turn over and break flower pots near the house.
Now squirrels are actively bred in nurseries for home keeping. The little squirrel is tamed in captivity, gets used to the owners. In captivity, squirrels also breed well and easily adapt to a new life. The gray squirrel is actively hunted because of its beautiful fur and fluffy tail. In some countries, squirrel meat is considered a delicacy and eaten.
The gray squirrel evokes the most positive emotions when dealing with them. She is loved by both children and adults, despite some threat of the spread of smallpox and her tendency to destroy around. The squirrel is a clean animal and does not settle in cities and areas with poor ecology. I wanted this species not to be included in the Red Book and always pleased the eye in local parks and forests.