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Eastern Gray Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis
Eastern Gray Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis
Scientific classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Subkingdom: Metazoa
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Sciuridae
Many, see the article Sciuridae.
Squirrel is the common name for rodents of the family Sciuridae (from Greek skia " shadow" and oura " tail" i.e. "tail that casts a shadow"). In everyday speech in the English-speaking world it usually refers to members of the genera Sciurus and Tamiasciurus. These typical members of the family are tree squirrels with large bushy tails, and are native to Europe, Asia and the Americas. Similar genera are found in Africa. However, the Sciuridae also include flying squirrels, and ground squirrels such as the chipmunks, prairie dogs, and woodchucks. The unrelated family Anomaluridae also have "squirrel" in their common name, though they are usually referred to as "scaly-tailed flying squirrels".A male is a buck and a female is a doe. Babies are kits (male) or kittens (female), and collectively pups. Squirrels also nest; these nests are called dreys, which may also refer to a group of squirrels.

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Diet and feeding behaviour
Popular-culture references

Background - Contents

Eurasian Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)
Eurasian Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)
Typical squirrels include the European Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris, the Fox Squirrel S. niger, the Eastern Gray Squirrel S. carolinensis, the Western Gray Squirrel S. griseus, and the American Red Squirrel Tamiasciurus hudsonicus.The " Black Squirrel" is actually a variant of the Eastern Gray Squirrel. Although considered rare in many areas, it is the dominant variety in most of Ontario, Quebec, and certain areas of the Northeastern United States. It is thought that the black variant developed its dark coat to better absorb heat in colder climates. In the United Kingdom, a colony of black squirrels has existed around the town of Letchworth Garden City for many years. Black squirrels, appearing to be identical to the red squirrels in the area, are also fairly common in some communities in southwestern Iowa, with a large population of black squirrels in Council Bluffs, Iowa. These large black squirrels have also been seen in Manilla and Missouri Valley in Iowa and Omaha, Nebraska.The Red Squirrel populations in Britain, Ireland, and, more recently, northern Italy, have declined and become regionally extinct in recent decades, primarily because of competition from Gray Squirrels (introduced from North America), but also habitat loss. Conservation efforts include preserving and planting the conifer forests that Red Squirrels prefer. The recent colonisation of mainland Europe from Italy by Gray Squirrels is expected to result ultimately in the extinction of the Red Squirrel over most of Europe.

Diet and feeding behaviour - Contents

One well-known trait of some species of squirrel is the gathering and storing of nuts for the winter. These squirrels are scatter-hoarders, i.e. they will gather nuts and store them in any accessible hiding place, usually by burying them. Recent research shows that they have excellent memories for the locations of these caches.Despite the popular impression, squirrels are actually omnivores; as well as eating a wide variety of plant food, including nuts, seeds, fruits, fungi (for example, mushrooms), and green vegetation, they also eat insects, eggs, and even small birds, smaller mammals, and frogs. There has even been a report of squirrels eating dogs.Squirrels are generally clever and persistent animals; in residential neighborhoods they are notorious for eating out of bird feeders, digging in potted plants either to bury or recover food, and for setting up house in sheltered areas including attics. While many companies sell bird feeders which are supposedly "squirrel-proof", most of them in fact are not.
A squirrel eating a nut
A squirrel eating a nut
Squirrels are sometimes also pests because they chew on various edible and inedible objects; the habit helps keep the squirrel's teeth sharp and also wears the teeth down (rodents' teeth grow continuously). Homeowners in areas with a heavy squirrel population must keep attics and basements carefully sealed to prevent property damage caused by nesting squirrels. Fake owls and scarecrows are generally ignored by the animals, and the best way to prevent chewing on an object is to coat it with something to make it undesirable: for instance a soft cloth or chile pepper paste or powder. Squirrel trapping is also practiced to remove them from residential areas.Squirrels can be trained to be hand-fed. Because they are able to cache surplus food, they will take as much food as you put out. If a person starts to feed one, that squirrel will come back day after day to get its food. Squirrels living in parks and campuses in cities have learned long ago that humans are typically a ready source of food. Feeding is not recommended, however, because squirrels may carry plague or other animal-borne diseases. Even if they do not carry disease, they often have a hard time telling fingertips from food, and bites are painful.

Popular-culture references - Contents

Despite periodic complaints about the animal as a pest, general public opinion towards the animal is favorable, thanks to its attractive appearance and graceful movement, and its habit of gathering and storing nuts. Squirrels are popular characters in cartoons and children's books, such as the works of Beatrix Potter. A less typical fictional squirrel is Secret Squirrel. A cartoon squirrel named Tammy was a memorable one-shot character on the Disney Afternoon's Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers. Marvel Comics has a heroine called Squirrel Girl. In the webcomic El Goonish Shive, one of the lead characters, Grace Sciuridae (originally known by the code-name 'Shade Tail'), has the ability to shapeshift into either a normal-sized squirrel or a half-squirrel furry form (the latter being her natural form), among others. Some others are used in internet cartoons for added humor, such as Foamy the Squirrel.Albino squirrels are thought by some to be a source of good luck. Olney, Illinois, is home of the world's largest known albino-squirrel colony. The Albino Squirrel Preservation Society was founded in 2001 at the University of Texas at Austin to celebrate the proliferation of white and albino squirrels on campus. There are eight college chapters of the ASPS across the United States, Canada, and England.The word squirrelled, meaning to have hidden items away, is arguably the longest one-syllable word in the English language, although only in its American English pronunciation; in all British English accents it has two syllables.Squirrels are often refered to as "tree rats" or "harveys" by people who dislike them and consider them pests. The word "Squirrel" is sometimes used to describe someone who is a 'goof' or 'clown' (i.e., he is a squirrel or is squirrely). The word "squirrely" also means "unpredictable", "shakey", or "a bit hard to control", when used in conjunction with the controls or handling of machinery.In the Uplift series by David Brin, the Urs colonists of Jijo use the term 'skirrl' (a mispronounced form of the Anglic word 'squirrel') as an insulting term for humans (being 'silly tree-climbing animals from Terra').In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the spoiled brat Veruca Salt was thrown down the garbage chute by a mob of walnut-shelling squirrels. Dozens of live squirrels were trained to handle nuts and attack for the scene.Popular Country Music parody artist Cletus T. Judd has a song entitled "Goodbye, Squirrel" (a parody of the Dixie Chicks' "Goodbye Earl"), involving a squirrel who causes a deer hunter to fall out of his deer stand (the hunter and his friend then wage an unsuccessful war, trying to kill the squirrel).

Trivia - Contents

At Kent State University, in Ohio, the black squirrel is a pop-culture symbol and icon. It is the unofficial mascot of the school. The legend suggests that all the black squirrels originated in 1961 from 10 original squirrels that were transported to the campus from northern Canada. There has been an annual Black Squirrel Festival since 1981.A French cartoon "Black Oublette" stars a squirrel called "Adam" and he quests to find his lost cat.In many areas of the United States, squirrels are still hunted for food.The squirrel is the mascot for the sorority Alpha Gamma Delta.
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