squirrel

 

Types and Species

There are more than 200 species of squirrels in the world. They are mainly divided into three different types – ground squirrels, tree squirrels and flying squirrels.

The various types differ in their size and where they live. Squirrels have been reported on every continent except Antarctica and Australia. Their scientific name is Sciuridae.

Some common types of squirrels include the Indian giant squirrel, western gray squirrel, and American red squirrel. With proper habitat and care, you can also keep squirrels as pets.

In this article, we’ll focus primarily on tree squirrels — but the squirrel family is actually much bigger than you might think. Groundhogs, chipmunks, and prairie dogs are squirrels too! See the end of this article for more information on squirrel species.



evolution

The earliest fossil evidence of squirrels is found in western North America, dating to about 36 million years ago. Six million years later – the fossil record shows squirrels appearing in Europe. During that time, the Bering Strait Land Bridge provided passage for many different species from North America, including squirrels. Squirrels appear in the African fossil record shortly after the collision with Eurasia about 18-20 million years ago. Since then, squirrels have evolved and adapted to their diverse environments—into the more than 200 species known today.

6 Incredible Squirrel Facts!

Here are some interesting facts about squirrels:

  • There are more than 200 kinds, and you can find them almost everywhere.
  • Squirrels are rodents with surprisingly trusting personalities.
  • Squirrels are planners! As winter approaches, they collect and store food in various locations as a survival strategy.
  • Squirrels are very intelligent animals that use different sounds to communicate with other squirrels.
  • Along with these vocalizations, the animals will use their tails to signal each other.
  • Squirrels dislike certain smells and will repel them, such as white pepper, garlic and black pepper.
A red squirrel in the center frame with its hand around its mouth as if eating. Squirrels stand on it. Sidewalks, or other long, narrow concrete areas. The background is a blurry green.
Squirrels are small, agile rodents with bushy tails.© Andrew Swinbank/Shutterstock.com

scientific name

The scientific name of the squirrel is Sciuridae, which belongs to the kingdom Animalia and the phylum Chordate. Their class is called mammals, and the order is called rodents. The suborder is called Sciuromorpha, and the family is also called Sciuridea, just like the scientific name.

The word Sciuridae comes from the Latin word Sciurus, meaning squirrel. The Latin root comes from a combination of two Greek words – skia (shade) and oura (tail).

appearance

These animals are small, agile rodents. They have a slender body with large eyes and a bushy tail. Their fur is short and silky, and also very soft. However, the thickness of the fur is species-dependent and varies from species to species. Fur comes in a variety of colors, including gray, brown, yellow, red, black, and white. The color of the squirrel also depends on the type of squirrel.

Most species have small, pointed ears and small, sharp claws, which allow them to climb trees quickly and easily. The smallest squirrels are only 10 centimeters long, while some of the largest squirrels in the world can reach lengths of 30 to 50 centimeters. Their tails are larger, reaching a length of up to 60 cm in some species.

The average weight of a squirrel is 1 -1.5 lbs. Indian giant squirrels weigh around 1.5 – 2 kg (3.3 – 4.4 lbs) and have beautiful rust and black fur. Interestingly, solid black coats are thought to be very rare among squirrels.

cute squirrel in the park
Squirrels like to store nuts in various hiding places and tend to remember where they are.©PhotoEvtim/Shutterstock.com

Behavior

These rodents are warm and furry animals that easily trust humans. They can also be kept as pets. If they trust you enough, they can eat out of your hand. They are also very intelligent, and their brains are known to specialize in visual functions.

As trusting as they may be, they may stare at a person to judge whether that person is safe or unsafe for them. They will quickly climb up the tree just in case they sense any danger. They are known to be loud animals, expressing themselves by chattering, barking, grunting and screaming – especially during mating season.

Eastern gray squirrel in the snow
Eastern gray squirrels out foraging in the winter snow.© iStock.com/suefeldberg

To warn others of impending danger or potential suspicion, these rodents wag their tails. They are also prepared for winter when food may not be as plentiful. They prefer to store nuts, seeds, and other foods, but they don’t store everything in one place. Instead, they choose different locations so they can return if weather conditions turn bad. They usually dig their donkeys and rest inside to protect themselves from the cold and harsh conditions.

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These animals are most active during the day, dawn and dusk. On the other hand, flying squirrels are known to be generally active at night. They don’t like the smell of white pepper, black pepper and garlic, giving you an easy and non-toxic repellant to keep these critters away.

Close-up of a fox squirrel
Squirrels are usually found wherever there are trees.©Nico Giuliani/Shutterstock.com

Habitat

Reports indicate that the animals can be found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Different species can be found in different parts of the world. However, most of these animals are found in mature or near-mature forests, especially in woodland areas (including the Indian giant squirrel).

They typically nest in walnut, oak, hickory, hickory, maple, elm, and mulberry trees, providing them with plenty of resting places. Tree squirrels especially live in wooded areas and (as their name suggests) prefer to live in trees. Meanwhile, ground squirrels live above ground, dig tunnels and donkeys walk underground. These burrows are also used for nesting in winter.

These animals build their own nests with the help of twigs and leaves that they collect around. Their nests are lined with grass and leaves. Their nests are called dreys, and they are usually placed along tree branches or buildings.

Some species may not end up building their own nests, but instead can hide temporarily in holes and stumps. Animals generally have two types of dens. They either build open dens for sleeping or covered dens for giving birth and raising babies.

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diet

Squirrels mainly eat seeds, nuts, fungi and fruit. Besides that, they also feed on other plants. Some species are also omnivorous when food is scarce. However, they do not feed on other mammals and are not as predatory. Instead, these animals feed on eggs, insects, and some small invertebrates. For a full list of foods squirrels eat, check out our “What do squirrels eat?” page.

Predators and Threats

These rodents are threatened by human activities such as industrialization and deforestation, which eventually lead to the loss of their habitat and slowly wipe out their populations. Urbanization and wildfires also contribute to habitat loss. There are also certain plants that threaten the natural habitats of animals.

The western gray squirrel was earlier considered a threatened species after a disease claimed most of its population. It is also at risk from the many traffic accidents that have resulted in the death of these animals. The population has recovered.

What eats squirrels?

Some common predators of these animals include red foxes, domestic cats, feral cats, dogs, badgers, skunks and weasels. Large, carnivorous birds like eagles also prey on squirrels.

little squirrel brothers and sisters
Baby squirrels are born blind and hairless and are not weaned until they are 6-10 weeks old.©Nilanka Sampath/Shutterstock.com

Reproduction, Babies and Longevity

These animals breed once or twice a year. Their gestation period is 3 to 6 weeks, but this depends on the particular species. The rodents can mate as early as 1 year old, eventually giving birth to two litters of pups. One litter is usually born in late spring and the other in late summer.

Babies open their eyes at 4 weeks of age. When they are 6 weeks old, they usually start venturing out of the nest. The babies are born blind and hairless and are not weaned from their mothers until about 6 to 10 weeks old. Baby squirrels are known to thrive best in the care of their mothers, which gives them the best chance of survival.

Animal lifespans vary by species. In the wild, it can live up to 5 to 10 years.

alertness, wild animal, wild animal, color image, cuteness
Squirrels are always on the alert for danger and are quick to warn others with their voices.© iStock.com/Jeff439

population

Although the exact number of these animals that exist around the world is unknown, there are more than 200 species of squirrels. Most of them can be classified according to their mode of travel, including ground squirrels, tree squirrels, and flying squirrels. However, the latter actually glides through the air, not flies.

Although the western gray squirrel was once considered a threatened species, its numbers have recovered.

More squirrel species

There are more than 200 species of squirrels, some of which are listed below:

trapping chipmunks
Chipmunks are tiny ground squirrels.©RT Images/Shutterstock.com

  • Chipmunk – Small, striped rodent found in North America. Siberian chipmunks are found in Asia. These little ground squirrels play an important role in forest ecosystems by harvesting and distributing tree seeds. They also help trees by eating fungi and spreading truffle spores.
  • Western Gray Squirrel – Found in Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada.
  • Red – A species of tree squirrel common in Europe and Asia.
  • Fox – Larger than the more common gray squirrel, these squirrels can be found in the eastern, central, and southeastern United States.
  • American Red – Also known as “Squirrel,” American Red can be found anywhere in the United States where conifers are abundant.
  • Southern Flying – A species of flying squirrel found in the northern and southern eastern United States.
  • Northern flying squirrel – Smaller than its southern cousin, this small flying squirrel lives in the Northwestern United States.
  • Douglas – found in the US Pacific states, Douglas is another species of “squirrel” – ranks alongside the American red squirrel.
  • Abert’s – This unusual squirrel is dark gray with a white belly and tail. It also has elongated, black-tipped ears and can be found in Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado.
  • White-tailed antelope — these little ground squirrels look like their chipmunk cousins — except their stripes end at the neck. They can be found in New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon, Arizona, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, and Southern California.
  • Black-tailed Marmot – Native to North American prairies, these small members of the squirrel family inhabit short grass prairies where they live in extensive underground burrows. They have a matrilineal social structure and everyone gets involved to help the colony. Groundhogs have an impressive set of vocalizations that they use to send messages to each other.
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Animals that eat their young: Groundhogs
The black-tailed prairie dog is the most common marmot that eats its young.©iStock.com/ViktorCap

  • Indian giant squirrel – Also known as the Malabar giant squirrel, this large multi-colored tree squirrel lives in the forests and woodlands of India. One of the largest squirrels in the world, the Indian giant squirrel can weigh up to 4 pounds and come in one, two or three tone color schemes. Colors are white, cream beige, buff, tan, rust, reddish chestnut, brown, deep seal brown, or black.
  • Texas Antelope – These smaller Texas antelope look like chipmunks, but with a twist – their stripes don’t extend over their heads, and their tails are often curled over their backs.
  • Prevot Squirrel – Also known as the Asian tricolor squirrel, this small, brightly colored rodent can be found in the forests of the Taima peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo and smaller nearby islands. Their fur has three distinct stripes of jet black, white, and reddish brown.
  • Arizona Gray – A gray tree squirrel that inhabits canyons and valleys surrounded by mixed forests in eastern Arizona and northern Mexico.
  • Mojave Grounds – These little ground squirrels can only be found in Mojave desserts in California. They are known for making that adorable “peep” sound.
  • Pala squirrel – Also known as the bull-bellied tree squirrel, this gray and red squirrel is native to China, India and Southeast Asia.
  • NORTH IDAHO GROUND – This little ground squirrel is considered threatened. It is smaller than most ground squirrels and has grayish-brown fur with reddish-brown spots. It has a short tail, tan feet and ears, and creamy white eye rings. This rare squirrel eats large quantities of grass seeds, stems and leaves.
  • Smith Bush – Also known as the yellow-footed tree squirrel, this squirrel is native to the woodlands of tropical southern Africa. Its color varies with its range – some are light gray – some are light brown. Its head and legs are dark rust colored. Their breasts tend to be pale yellow to buff.
  • Groundhog – Also known as the marmot, the marmot is a member of the subspecies of the marmot in the family Sciuridae. They are highly intelligent, forming complex social networks, forming kinship bonds with their young and communicating vocally. They work together, digging burrows where they sleep, hibernate and live. These large rodents are found throughout the eastern United States, Canada, and Alaska.
Groundhog comes out of a hole in the snow
Groundhog comes out of a hole in the snow© iStock.com/BrianEKushner

Other squirrel species are:

Cape ground squirrel, smallest pygmy, giant grizzly, Wyoming gopher, Humbolt’s flying, rock squirrel, variegated, Mexican grey, round-tailed gopher, Belding gopher, Merriam gopher, Piute gopher, ponderosa chipmunk, Yellow-bellied Marmot, Thirteen-Lined Ground, Columbia Ground, Washington Ground, Richmond, Allen, Caucasian, Collie, Depay, Fiery, Black Giant, Mexican Fox, Red Tail, Japan and Peter.

in the zoo

Squirrels can be kept in zoos, but experienced owners can also keep them as pets. Zoos in almost every state have squirrels on display, so it’s easy to find them. However, if you don’t want to go to the zoo, you may just have to venture out to your local forest to find them.

similar to a squirrel

  • beaver
  • marmot
  • chinchilla

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about the author

Lisa Pace


After a career providing opportunities for local communities to experience and create art, I enjoy having time to write about two of my favorite things – nature and animals. I spend half my life outside, usually with my husband and adorable 14 year old puppy. We enjoyed walking around the lake and taking photos of the animals we encountered including: otters, osprey, Canada geese, ducks and nesting bald eagles. I also enjoy reading, discovering books to add to my library, collecting and playing vinyl records, and listening to my son’s music.

Squirrel FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are squirrels herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?

While the usual diet of squirrels consists of nuts, seeds, and fruit, some of them are also omnivorous, eating eggs, insects, and other small vertebrates when food is scarce.

To which kingdom do squirrels belong?

Squirrels belong to the animal kingdom.

What door do squirrels belong to?

Squirrels belong to the phylum Chordate.

Which category do squirrels belong to?

Squirrels belong to the class Mammalia.

What family do squirrels belong to?

Squirrels belong to the family Sciuridae.

What order do squirrels belong to?

Squirrels belong to the order Rodentia.

What type of mulch do squirrels have?

Squirrels are covered with fur.

What type of habitat do squirrels live in?

Squirrels live in woodlands and dense forests.

What is the main prey of squirrels?

Squirrels eat fruit, seeds and insects.

What are the natural enemies of squirrels?

Natural enemies of squirrels include snakes, coyotes, and weasels.

How many children does the squirrel have?

The average number of babies a squirrel has is 3.

What are some interesting facts about squirrels?

Squirrels are small rodents found in woodlands all over the world!

What is the scientific name of the squirrel?

The scientific name of the squirrel is Sciuridae.

What is the lifespan of a squirrel?

Squirrels can live from 2 to 8 years.

How fast are squirrels?

Squirrels can travel as fast as 16 miles per hour.

What do you feed the little squirrel?

You can give your baby squirrel diluted milk, a few drops of curdled milk, and glucose.

What does squirrel poop look like?

Squirrel droppings are largely similar to mouse droppings. However, they are larger, barrel-shaped particles that are dark brown in color.

What do squirrels hate the most?

Squirrels reject the smells of white pepper, black pepper and garlic – they find them very unpleasant.

What does it mean when a squirrel stares at you?

If a squirrel is staring at you, there’s a good chance it’s judging whether you’re safe or not. If anything suspicious is spotted, the squirrel will quickly climb up a tree to protect itself.

Are squirrels dangerous?

Squirrels are affectionate and very trusting. They can also come and eat your hand if they trust you. However, whether they are dangerous is unclear. Some say they do carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans. Therefore, it is best to stay protected and take precautions when coming into contact with squirrels.

What’s the difference between squirrel poop and mouse poop?

The main differences between squirrel poop and rat poop include size, shape, and color. Rat poop is longer and thicker than squirrel poop. However, the two are relatively close in size, so they may appear similar to a layman.

What’s the Difference Between a Bay Mouse and a Small Squirrel?

The biggest differences between newborn squirrels and rats are their size, head shape and toenail color. A newborn squirrel may be larger than a mouse, and it will initially weigh more than a mouse.

What is the Difference Between Ground Squirrels and Tree Squirrels?

The biggest differences between ground squirrels and tree squirrels are their size, color, and habitat. Overall, ground squirrels are larger than tree squirrels. The average ground squirrel can weigh up to 18 pounds and be nearly 3 feet long, but tree squirrels weigh only a quarter of that.

What is the Difference Between Gophers and Squirrels?

The key differences between gophers and squirrels include their appearance, diet, habitat, behavior, and injuries.

Thanks for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

source
  1. Live Science, available here: https://www.livescience.com/28182-squirrels.html
  2. One Kind Planet, available here: https://onekindplanet.org/animal/squirrel/
  3. Pest World, available here: https://www.pestworld.org/news-hub/pest-articles/squirrels-101/
  4. Animals Network, available here: https://animals.net/squirrel/
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