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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article is about the animal. For other uses, see Squirrel (disambiguation).

Squirrel is the common name for rodents of the family Sciuridae (from Greek skia "shadow" and oura "tail"; "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 indigenous 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". The word squirrel comes from the Old French esqurial, which itself comes from the Vulgar Latin word scuriolus (squirrel). The pronunciation of this animal's name varies. The British way uses a short "i". The American pronunciation can rhyme either with "curl" or with "Merril", varying regionally.


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, the Douglas Squirrel Tamiasciurus douglasii, and the American Red Squirrel Tamiasciurus hudsonicus.

Diet and feeding behavior

European Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)
European Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)

One well-known trait of some species of squirrel is the gathering and storing of nuts for the winter. These squirrels are scatter-hoarders; they will gather nuts and store them in any accessible hiding place, usually by burying them. Recent research shows that they have rather limited memories, and use spatial clues to remember the locations of these caches (e.g., one squirrel may prefer to store nuts on the north side of trees) [citation needed]. Another characteristic trait of several types of squirrels, especially ground squirrels, is their tendency to rise on their hind legs and curl their paws flat against their chests when they sense any kind of danger. They will then survey their surrounding territories. If they feel that they are in peril, they will often send the warning call, a loud screeching sound, to alert other squirrels.

Unlike rabbits or deer, squirrels cannot digest cellulose, and must rely on foods rich in protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Early spring is the hardest time of year for squirrels, as buried nuts begin to sprout and are no longer available, but new food sources have not become available yet. During these times squirrels rely heavily on the buds of trees, in particular, those of the Silver Maple. Despite 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. It is also a common occurrence that these foods replace nuts in some of the tropics.

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 seeds, and for setting up house in sheltered areas including attics. While many companies sell bird feeders which are supposedly "squirrel-proof", very few - if any - of them really are.

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 them 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. Some homeowners resort to more humane ways of dealing with this, such as collecting and planting fur from pets (such as domestic cats and dogs) in attics. This fur will indicate to nesting squirrels that a potential predator roams and will encourage evacuation. 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 chili 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. Hand 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.

Squirrels are often the cause of electricity outages. The animals will enter transformers or capacitors looking for food. The squirrels are then electrocuted and cause a power surge that shorts equipment. Squirrels have brought down the high-tech NASDAQ stock market twice, and were responsible for a spate of power outages at the University of Alabama [1]. They will often chew on tree branches to sharpen their teeth, but cannot tell the difference between a tree branch and a live power line. Rubber plates are sometimes used to prevent access to these facilities.

Squirrels as food

Until recent times, squirrel meat was considered a favored meat in certain regions of the United States where it can be listed as wild game. This is evidenced by extensive recipes for its preparation found in cookbooks including the Joy of Cooking. Squirrel meat can easily be exchanged for rabbit or chicken in recipes. Its light red or pink flesh has only a slight game taste. In many areas of the US, squirrels are hunted for food.

Popular culture references

Despite periodic complaints about the animal as a pest, general public opinion towards the animal is favorable, thanks to its appearance and 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 and Rocky, Bullwinkle's partner in adventures. 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. The Albino Squirrel Preservation Society was founded at the University of Texas at Austin in 2001. Olney, Illinois, is home of the world's largest known albino-squirrel colony. Kenton, Tennessee is home to about 200 albino squirrels.

The word squirrelled, meaning to have hidden items away, is arguably the longest one-syllable word in the English language, with eleven letters. However, this is true only in certain dialects of American English; in many American English and all British English accents, it has two syllables.

Squirrels are often referred 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' (that is, 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 English word 'squirrel') as an insulting term for humans (being 'silly tree-climbing animals from Terra').

In The Pixel Eye, a science fiction novel by Paul Levinson, squirrels with video and audio chips embedded in the brain are utilized as urban spies.

In the children's novel 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 book’s 2005 film adaptation. The final cut included animated squirrels side by side with the live squirrel footage.

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).

Conker the Squirrel is the main character of Conker's Bad Fur Day, a video game for the Nintendo 64 and Microsoft Xbox. Conker also makes appearances in many other games.

In the film Almost Heroes, one of the travelers (played by Steven Porter) spots an animal (a squirrel) and everyone except Leslie Edwards (Matthew Perry) and Bartholomew Hunt (Chris Farley) began to shoot at it. Bart then tells them to hold their fire and sees that it's just a squirrel. Then the same traveler who spotted the squirrel first shouts that there was "somethin' in his hand" and they all resume shooting at it.

One of the characters in Ice Age 2 is a saber-toothed squirrel named Scrat.

In the cartoon Spongebob Squarepants the character Sandy Cheeks is a female squirrel.

In the 1980s the UK beer company Carling Black Label ran an advert in which a completely wild squirrel, of its own free will, negotiated a highly improbably obstacle course (without the aid of special effects) to the theme tune of Mission: Impossible.

Nutty is a character in the Happy Tree Friends cartoon series. He is a light green crazed squirrel with a serious mental disorder and an enormous addiction for sugar, sweets and candies.

In the 1997 movie Fools Rush In, Isabel tells a story about two different squirrels to Alex while sitting next the Grand Canyon.

On the Cartoon Network cartoon Camp Lazlo, there is a group of girl scouts across the lake from Camp Kidney known as the Squirrel Scouts, who reside in a girl scout camp known as Acorn Flats.

Foamy the Squirrel is another popular online cartoon series centering around Foamy and his rants about American culture.

In the 2006 Dreamworks animated film Over the Hedge, one of the main characters was a hyperactive squirrel named Hammy with a craving for cookies and a short attention span, not unlike the real-life animal.


  • At Albion College, in Michigan, the squirrels are predominatly black. They have become one of the defining symbols of the college.
  • 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 ten original squirrels that were transported to the campus from northern Canada. There has been an annual Black Squirrel Festival since 1981.
  • Black Squirrels are also a popular rumor and sighting at the University of Maryland, College Park. Although rare, they have been sighted, and small studies have been conducted to find out why they are there. A joke has circulated that if a person has seen a Black Squirrel on campus, then the person can join a club (most commonly on facebook).
  • A French cartoon "Black Oublette" stars a squirrel called "Adam" and he quests to find his lost cat.
  • The Squirrels Cricket Club (S.C.C) is a nomadic touring cricket team, formed in 2002 from members of Lenton and Wortley Hall, Nottingham University. Their motto is 'Defendite Nuces' a loose latin translation of 'Protect The Nuts'.
  • The squirrel is the mascot for the sorority Alpha Gamma Delta.
  • A squirrel ran onto the pitch during Arsenal's UEFA Champions League semi-final against Villarreal on April 19th, 2006. [2]
  • Andorra featured a Red Squirrel on the reverse of a 1992 10 Diner Proof Silver Crown with a mintage of 15,000 as part of its wildlife series.
  • The United States Postal Service (USPS) featured a Red Squirrel on a 29¢ self-adhesive stamp issued in 1993.
  • Vair is a fur coat of arms design which originated from squirrels.
  • One of the University of Chicago's unofficial mottos include: "University of Chicago—where the squirrels are cuter than the girls". This is in reference to the notion that there are no intelligent 'girls' that are cute at the university, or, that the squirrels are so cute, they are 'cuter than the girls'.
  • At The University of North Texas, an albino squirrel represents academic fortune as well as a popular icon. The legend started from a student who, forgetting to study for an exam, observes an albino squirrel on his way to class. Since he passed his exam, the legend believes that anyone who sees an albino squirrel will pass all their exams that day. Discovered in 2002, an organization was formed for the squirrel, the Albino Squirrel Preservation Society. Tragically, on the morning of August 21, 2006, the albino squirrel was the prey of a hawk and was pronounced dead.
  • Research from the North East of England (U.K.) suggests that that squirrels are responsible for more deaths of song birds than domestic cats.
  • Large black squirrels at the University of British Columbia are generally seen to be a plague, and comparisons to rats abound
  • Squirrels have brought down the NASDAQ exchange twice. A squirrel knocked out the power in 1994, and the NASDAQ system failed to roll over to its battery backup, causing an interruption in trading of one half hour. In 1987, a squirrel entered a transformer and caused a power surge, halting trading for 82 minutes

See also

  • Squirrel fishing


  • Davidson, Alan. Oxford Companion to Food (1999), "Squirrel". p.750. ISBN 0192115790

External links

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  • Squirrel Fun
  • Russian squirrel pack 'kills dog'
  • The Black Squirrels Of London
  • The Black Squirrel Song
  • Lucky the White Squirrel
  • - Squirrel Information and Forum
  • Raising a Squirrel
  • Full list of the Sciuridae
  • Squirrel Taxidermy and Squirrel Forms
  • Save the Red Squirrel
  • Jon's World o' Squirrels
  • Looking to rehabilitate a baby Squirrel? Go here
  • Those Darn Squirrels -- Squirrel Photography
  • Squirrel Fishing
  • Albino Squirrel Preservation Society
  • Info about black squirrels in Canada
  • Northern Ireland Forest Service - Red Squirrel Action Plan
  • Squirrel control - how to remove from attic - trapping techniques, photos, & videos
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