Today is National Squirrel Appreciation Day! While many people find it hard to appreciate squirrels because of the way squirrels can raid birdfeeders, think about a squirrel’s ability to move a forest…
The gray squirrel, or Sciurus carolinensis, eats mostly mast – acorns, hickory nuts, beech nuts, etc. During the late summer and fall months squirrels gather these tree seeds and bury them for use as a winter food source. It is estimated that each squirrel makes several thousand of these caches each year. Often, the squirrel doesn’t come back for the food store, so the tree seed sprouts and a new tree begins to grow.
Adult gray squirrels can grow to 20 inches in length and weigh about 1 pound. Nearly half their length is made up of their broad bushy tail. That tail allows them to perform many of their balancing feats as they leap from tree to tree. They also use their tails as a blanket in the winter; wrapping it around them to help keep them warm.
Gray squirrels are also one of the few mammals who can descend a tree head first. To do this, it turns the paws of its hind feet backward and uses its toenails to grip the tree.
Check out the Smithsonian’s North American Mammals website for more information, photos, and maps about the gray squirrel