Squirrels are some of the most common animals, found in almost all urban environments. But we only see squirrels running around, foraging. We hardly see them taking a nap or eating at their home. So where do squirrels sleep and what do they eat? Here’s everything about squirrels, their habitat, hibernation, estivation, diet, and other facts.
It might be surprising to you but squirrels belong to the same family as rats, mouses, and chipmunks. Even in squirrels, there are multiple variations both in habitat, size, and geographical distribution. Since we are talking about the sleeping location and diet, the habitat of the squirrel plays an important role in deciding where they sleep and what they eat.
There are three types of squirrels based on the habitat. Ground squirrels live on the ground, tree squirrels live in trees and flying squirrels live in trees (and not air!). Ground squirrels live in burrows dug by them. Some even make elaborate tunnel systems underground. Tree and flying squirrels live in trees by building a special nest. Both tree and flying squirrels are very similar, but as the name goes, one can fly (glide in the true sense) while the other can’t. Let’s start with the ground.
Ground squirrels are medium-sized squirrels that live inside holes and burrows in the ground. These squirrels are very agile and mostly stay away from houses and people. This means that they will run away from any approaching human (or predator). This does not mean that they won’t enter your unattended house.
Large ground squirrels are called marmots and prairie dogs while smaller ones are called chipmunks. There is a wide variety of ground squirrels, some of which are listed in the final section of the article. Ground squirrels are land-bound animals and sleep in deep burrows. These burrows usually have an opening that’s 4 inches in diameter while it can be as deep as 6 feet. Some tunnel-like burrows are 15-20 feet long! Prairie dogs are known to form “bustling” underground city with a network of tunnels.
Ground squirrels are herbivores and eat small plants, herbs, seeds, nuts, and grains. They even eat avocados! Ground squirrels usually forage for food near their burrows and never travel too far from it. They are almost always within 50-meter from their burrows when they venture out for food. Ground squirrels have multiple “stashes” of food hidden in different locations. Most squirrels recover almost 80% of their hidden food.
A problem that ground squirrels present, especially in places like California is they are a pestilence. Many houses’ yards are infiltrated by these little soldiers. A common and easy way of getting rid of ground squirrels is by installing a proper fence around the house. Mint plants and ground coffee also act as a squirrel repellent. But if there are way too many of these rodents, it is better to call professional help.
As the name goes, these squirrels are tree-dwellers. They are small, fast, and usually have a color that matches the color of the tree bark they live in. There are four major types of tree squirrels common in North America; the Red squirrel, the Gray squirrels, Fox squirrels, and Pine squirrels. Finding new types of squirrels isn’t uncommon. Some new species (mentioned later) have been discovered in recent years.
Tree squirrels live in nests called dreys or drays and these are very similar to bird nests. A well-protected area in the tree is selected by these squirrels and nests are made. These nests are made with leaves, twigs, moss, etc. Some tree squirrels also live inside holes in trees (thanks to woodpeckers) called dens. Squirrels choose a place that could protect them from predators and natural elements like rain, storm, etc.
Tree squirrels eat a variety of foods. These are omnivorous animals which means they eat both fruits and nuts and meat as well. They eat nuts, fruits, seeds, acorns, berries, fungi, etc. Some tree squirrels such as the pine squirrels eat small snakes, caterpillars, and some other smaller insects.
Tree squirrels are also a great pestilence. If in large numbers, they can wreak havoc in your home. These squirrels usually make chimneys, attics, and other closed spaces their abode. Make sure to call for pest control if you hear noises, notice fecal matter, or anything that has been chewed violently.
There are two native species of flying squirrels found in North America; the southern flying squirrels (Glaucomys volans) and the Northern flying squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus). Flying squirrels don’t fly. They have flaps near their limbs which act as a parachute and allows them to glide. So an apt name for them would be gliding squirrels. But this gliding could be taken as flying since they can glide as long as a football field.
Flying squirrels also live in trees. They make nests (dens or dreys) using twigs, leaves, mosses, etc in a secure place. These squirrels are found in every part of America. They live in deciduous and coniferous forests. Flying squirrels are less common in urban areas.
Flying squirrels are omnivores. This means that they eat nuts, fruits, insects, fungi, birds, eggs, etc. Squirrels also store their foods to prevent it from being stolen. This food storage allows them to survive the harsh winters and summers when the food is scarce and the weather is unbearable. This brings us to the next section; hibernation and estivation.
Squirrel hibernation and estivation
Squirrels are true hibernators. Usually, during the warm months, squirrels are most active during the early morning. Depending on the type of weather, some squirrels hibernate and estivate while some don’t. But during extremely hot and cold winters, all squirrels are scarcely active and spend most of their time sleeping.
Squirrels such as the arctic squirrel or the ground squirrel of California are true hibernators. These squirrels find a den that is warm and safe, store food, and lay dormant for months. Their metabolism slows down and so does their heart rate. It can take a squirrel about 10-12 hours to wake up from hibernation. In fact, scientists are learning how squirrels can decrease blood flow to their brains while hibernating. This can help us treat stroke patients.
Estivation is the summer sleep when temperatures are too high and food is scarce. Ground squirrels living at higher altitudes estivate when the temperature is very high. Squirrels living in moderately warm areas decrease their activity but don’t generally estivate. The same goes for hibernation.
The life span of squirrels
Most of the squirrels have a similar life span. Their lifespan depends on the place they live in. In the wild, squirrels live a long life. Their life span ranges from 5 years to even 15 years! Think about it, a squirrel can live longer than a dog. In the city and urban environment, squirrels are not very lucky. Predators, environmental hazards, humans, and other factors take a toll on their life span. On average, city squirrels live anywhere between 3 to 5 years.
Types of squirrels found in North America
There are five types of squirrels found in North America. These are;
- Eastern gray squirrel
- Western gray squirrel
- Red squirrel
- Fox squirrel
- Black squirrel
Of the flying squirrels, there are three species of flying squirrels in North America. The third species has been a recent addition to the list. These are;
- Northern flying squirrel
- Southern flying squirrel
- Humboldt’s flying squirrel was found in regions of Wash, Oregon, and California. Read more about it on National Geographic’s website.
For ground squirrels, we have to keep the list short because there are over 60 species of ground squirrels. We’ll keep it short;
- Prairie dog
- Thirteen-lines squirrel
- Richardson ground squirrel
- Arctic ground squirrel
- Mohave ground squirrel, etc.
This concludes the article. We hope this article helped in resolving your query. Read more articles related to animal life and behavior;