Why Should You Love Squirrels?

Submitted by Faye Mahaffey

OSUE Master Gardener Volunteer – Brown County


According to the Spring 2018 WOODLAND magazine there are 6 reasons why you should love squirrels! I am sure that you are thinking of all the reasons that you don’t feel love when it comes to those sometimes-pesky critters. My list might include: Pulls small transplants out of containers, digs and buries things in the containers, bullies the birds at the feeding station, and literally lounges on the railing of the deck and drinks out of my water garden!

Squirrels often get a bad rap. They raid bird feeders. They can chew through just about anything. They dart out in front of cars.

But, while sometimes inconvenient for humans, this oft-labeled “nuisance” animal has a lot to offer, according to a University of Florida researcher who studies squirrel ecology.

“Squirrels are some of the most visible wildlife in our modern urban and suburban settings, and they are a vital part of the ecosystems they inhabit”, said Robert McCleery, an associate professor in the department of wildlife ecology and conservation in the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

So, take a moment to learn what’s fun, interesting and mysterious about these fluffy-tailed creatures, says the author.

  1. They chew for a reason. They are chewing on things because they have incisors -front teeth-that are always growing. If they don’t chew on something, their teeth are going to grow into their lower jaw and skull. To avoid that, squirrels will chew on anything that helps wear down their teeth.
  2. They are nature’s gardeners. Squirrels have an important ecological role, especially in forest ecosystems. Their biggest contribution to the forest is in shaping plant composition. They have a peculiar habit of taking seeds, which are their main source of nutrients and burying them. Often when they go back to look for them, they forget where they are. When that happens, they are effectively planting seeds. Over time, this behavior, called caching, changes the composition of a forest.
  3. They have some zany behaviors that are entertaining to watch. If you see a squirrel rubbing its face on an acorn, that’s the squirrel marking the seed with its scent, increasing the chances it will find it later.
  4. They will tell you off. If you’re in your backyard or walking through a park, you might hear squirrels. “They make a rolling chirping noise,” McCleery says. As they make that noise, they may also rapidly flick their tails over their heads. All this is the squirrel’s way of saying, Back off! They might be scolding you because you are near a tree they’ve utilized or are near some food resource, or you’re perceived as a predator.
  5. There are many species of squirrel, and they come in lots of shapes, colors, and sizes. Ohio has four different species of squirrels. While most people are familiar with the Eastern Gray and Fox squirrels, Ohio is also home to Red and Flying squirrels. The Southern Flying Squirrel is Ohio’s most populous squirrel species, but since it is strictly nocturnal it is seldom seen. Flying squirrels get their name from the flaps of skin between their front and back legs. These flaps allow them to glide from one tree to the next.
  6. They are full of mystery. There is still so much that’s not known about squirrels, McCleery says. He never gets tired of studying them. One of the things they are trying to understand right now is why squirrels sometimes decide to eat a seed right away and other times decide to bury it.

My favorite squirrel incident happened while visiting a friend in Florida. Every morning we walked around the neighborhood and enjoyed seeing the bird feeding stations that had been “squirrel proofed.” As we came around the corner, we saw a large, plastic bird feeder with a large squirrel inside! When he saw us, he became as still as a statue, as if to say, “I am not a squirrel inside this bird feeder. Just look away! Mind your own business!”

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