S is for Squirrel
This squirrel image was taken by Tim Green on Flikr:
People are divided in opinion about squirrels, particularly grey squirrels.
They are curious, friendly, extremely intelligent, entertaining, and can live in towns and cities and woodlands with equal ease.
They climb. This means there is a downside, sometimes – they can be destructive and chew through things like cables. They need to gnaw to keep their teeth in check, as they grow continuously.
But in the best of circumstances, where there is enough space and food, they are a welcome visitor to the garden for many people.
Some facts about squirrels:
They do eat buds and young leaves of trees – however many trees have defences against squirrels and they seldom actually harm trees in natural surroundings.
In fact, they perform a wonderful service in that they ‘scatter’ hoard – leave nuts buried and hidden all over the forest, so many that they can’t possibly recall where they all are.
In this way they help trees procreate some distance further away than just where the nuts have dropped underneath the parent.
In the US, there are two types of oak tree, red oaks and white oaks.
Richard W. Thorington, Curator of Mammals at Smithsonian University, has studied squirrels. In his books, Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide, and Squirrels of the World, he states some fascinating facts.
He says that because white oak acorns sprout easily and early as soon as they are buried, squirrels have learned to either eat them first and just bury the red nuts, or, and this is really clever, bite through the embryo of the white oak acorns, meaning they can’t sprout. Then they bury them.
They can run as fast as 20mph.
They stop quite still to assess danger before leaping away and off – this means that they often get run over on roads.
Their name comes from a Greek word, skiouros, meaning ‘shadow tail’.
When they live in groups squirrel will warn the others of a perceived danger – they have quite a harsh warning cry that sounds almost like a bird. The one that warns stays until all the others have got to safety.
American grey squirrels were introduced into the UK. Unfortunately they are hardier and more able to withstand periods of food shortage than the indigenous UK red squirrel, and carry a disease that they have some immunity to, but which kills red squirrels almost immediately when they catch it.
Now red squirrels are only present in a few small areas of the UK, Brownsea Island off of Poole in the south, a few small areas of Wales, and a contracting population in Scotland.
Here is a red squirrel taken by Paul Buxton on Flikr – they are ridiculously cute!
There are only 140,000 red squirrels left, compared to an estimated 2.4 million greys.
They live on mainly seeds, from pine cones and things like that, and also fungi – they ‘dry’ fungi by hanging it out over branches to store and eat during the winter.
Here is my squirrel poem:
Let’s celebrate the squirrels
that perform the twig trapeze,
their tightrope walking artistry,
their acrobatic ease,
fuelled by the forest’s music
of buds and nuts and leaves,
they plant the future woodland –
they are spirits of the trees.
Poem © Liz Brownlee
Photos © Tim Green and Paul Buxton.
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