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Squirrel

Squirrel

Squirrels are members of the family Sciuridae, a family that includes small or medium-size rodents. The squirrel family includes tree squirrels, ground squirrels (including chipmunks and prairie dogs, among others), and flying squirrels. Squirrels are indigenous to the Americas, Eurasia, and Africa, and were introduced by humans to Australia. Th...

Squirrel

The word "squirrel", first attested in 1327, comes from the Anglo-Norman esquirel which is from the Old French escurel, the reflex of a Latin word sciurus, which was taken from the Ancient Greek word σκίουρος (from σκία-ουρος), skiouros, "shadow-tailed", referring to the long bushy tail which many of its members have.

The native Old English word for the squirrel, acweorna, survived only into Middle English (as aquerne) before being replaced. The Old English word is of Common Germanic origin, cognates of which are still used in other Germanic languages, including the German Eichhörnchen (diminutive of Eichhorn, which is not as frequently used), the Norwegian ikorn/ekorn, the Dutch eekhoorn, the Swedish ekorre and the Danish egern.

A group of squirrels is called a "dray" or a "scurry".

Behavior

Squirrels mate either once or twice a year and, following a gestation period of three to six weeks, give birth to a number of offspring that varies by species. The young are altricial, being born naked, toothless, and blind. In most species of squirrel, the female alone looks after the young, which are weaned at six to ten weeks and become sexually mature by the end of their first year. In general, the ground-dwelling squirrel species are social, often living in well-developed colonies, while the tree-dwelling species are more solitary.

Ground squirrels and tree squirrels are usually either diurnal or crepuscular, while the flying squirrels tend to be nocturnal—except for lactating flying squirrels and their young, which have a period of diurnality during the summer.
Feeding
Red squirrel in the Seurasaari island in Helsinki, Finland. The almost domesticated red squirrels on that island have become accustomed to humans thanks to their long-term feeding.Because squirrels cannot digest cellulose, they must rely on foods rich in protein, carbohydrates, and fats. In temperate regions, early spring is the hardest time of year for squirrels because the nuts they buried are beginning to sprout (and thus are no longer available to eat), while many of the usual food sources have not yet become available. During these times, squirrels rely heavily on the buds of trees. Squirrels, being primarily herbivores, eat a wide variety of plants, as well as nuts, seeds, conifer cones, fruits, fungi, and green vegetation. Some squirrels, however, also consume meat, especially when faced with hunger. Squirrels have been known to eat small birds, young snakes, and smaller rodents, as well as bird eggs and insects. Some tropical squirrel species have shifted almost entirely to a diet of insects.

Squirrels, like pigeons and other fauna, are synanthropes, in that they benefit and thrive from their interaction in human environments. This gradual process of successful interaction is called synurbanization, wherein squirrels lose their inherent fear of humans in an urban environment. When squirrels were almost completely eradicated during the Industrial Revolution in New York, they were later re-introduced to "entertain and remind" humans of nature. The squirrel blended into the urban environment so efficiently that when synanthropic behavior stops (i.e. people do not leave trash outside during particularly cold winters), they can become aggressive in their search for food.

Taxonomy

The living squirrels are divided into five subfamilies, with about 58 genera and some 285 species. The oldest squirrel fossil, Hesperopetes, dates back to the Chadronian (late Eocene, about 40–35 million years ago) and is similar to modern flying squirrels.

A variety of fossil squirrels, from the latest Eocene to the Miocene, have not been assigned with certainty to any living lineage. At least some of these probably were variants of the oldest basal "protosquirrels" (in the sense that they lacked the full range of living squirrels' autapomorphies). The distribution and diversity of such ancient and ancestral forms suggest the squirrels as a group may have originated in North America.

Breeding
Whether they dwell high in a tree or in an underground burrow, female squirrels typically give birth to two to eight offspring. Babies are blind and totally dependent on their mothers for two or three months. Mothers may have several litters in a year, so most squirrel populations are robust.

Timeline

Further Resources

Title
Author
Link
Type
Date

Evil Squirrle Knievel fearless and daring

Web

June 9, 2013

Videos for Cats to Watch - Squirrel Mania

Web

July 19, 2017

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