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Friday, 17 de October 2008
The word “squirrel” comes from skiouros, a Greek word meaning “the shadow tail” (“Skia” means “shadow” and “oura” means “tail”). It is believed that the reason for this name comes from the ability of squirrels to make their own shade by lifting their tails.
Squirrels are rodents, which mean they belong to the order “Rodentia”, which includes mice, porcupines, beavers, guinea pig, gerbils, etc. Rodentia groups in fact forty percent of all the mammal species, which makes it the largest order of mammals.
There are over 250 species of squirrels
The largest specie of squirrels is the Indian Giant Squirrel, Ratufa indica.The body of this squirrel has 35 to 40 cm but his tail can reach 50 cm.
Squirrels have big eyes located on the sides of their head, in a high position. Their wide field of vision allows them to see not only what is on front of them, but also part of what’s behind him. Unlike the human eye, the squirrel’s eye is perfectly focused not only in the middle of the image, but also in the periphery.
Being a rodent, squirrel’s teeth never stop growing. They grow an astonishing 15 cm a year but to its constant gnawing, the squirrel manages to keep them short.
Squirrels have strong legs that allow them to jump over six meters (20 feet). But even more remarkable is their ability of falling without getting injured: they can survive unharmed to a 30 meters fall (100 feet).
Squirrels eat various types of foods: nuts, fruits, seeds, but also bugs and an occasional dead animal if all the rest in unavailable. An adult squirrel eats, in average, 0,5 kg of food per week.
These little animals usually “mark” their nuts with their scent before burying them: they remove the shell, lick the nut or rub it on the belly. When it’s time to dig the nuts, they find them by tracking their scent.
When eating, squirrels aren’t focused on the nut, but on the possible predators around them. This is why the most common bite of squirrels happens when they are being fed by humans that grab the food between two fingers.
Unlike many people think, tree squirrels don’t hibernate. However, ground squirrels do.
The male tree squirrel is one of the cleanest rodents. He takes twice as long as females to groom himself.
Squirrels are crepuscular animals, more active at sunrise and sunset, although their habits seem to change according to the season. In the summer, squirrels wake up a couple of hours after dawn, rest again in the afternoon, resume their activities a couple of hour before sunset and retire to their nests before dark. In the winter, the squirrel is more active during the first part of the day, starting at dawn up to mid-day. In especially bad weathered days, squirrels may not leave the nest at all.
When squirrels feel threatened their first instinct is to freeze. If they are on the ground, they will search for a tree to take cover.
The squirrel is a clean and working animal: if his nest is attacked by fleas or other parasites, he will build a new one elsewhere. Sometimes, in some places, there are more nests than squirrels.
Squirrels communicate trough body language, especially tail gestures, and also a series of chirps they produce.
Adult squirrels usually live alone, although in extreme weather conditions they temporarily share nests to warm each other.
Like most animals, squirrels are more active during the mating season, which lasts from February to May. The males chase the females from tree to tree, doing acrobatic jumps.
Squirrels once lived inside the White House, when Theodore Roosevelt, former president of the United States, had as pet a flying squirrel.
Squirrel in different languages:
- Danish - Egern
- French - Écureuil
- German - Eichhörnchen
- Italian - Scoiattolo
- Latin - Sciurus
- Polish – Wiewiórka
- Portuguese - Esquilo
- Spanish - Ardilla
- Turkish – Sincap