Creature Feature: Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
By CG Science Writer Emma Dean
Ohio University students are privy to a campus with numerous squirrels that constantly dash across greens and sneak food from trash cans. The campus’ deciduous trees are the animal’s main habitat. Besides forests, these creatures can be spotted in yards, gardens, and city parks.
When settlers first took up residence in the Ohio area, the gray squirrel was one of the most populous wildlife species. At one time, taxpayers were required by law to turn in a quota of squirrel skins along with his tax payment because the squirrels were agricultural pests. Since 1885, however, hunting seasons and bag limits for the gray squirrel have been redefined.
Gray Squirrels are born in leaf nests that rest in trees. Babies are born without teeth or fur and with closed eyes and ears. Offsprings’ eyes open after 36 days. After 7 weeks they will begin to eat solid foods like greens and bark which is part of the gray squirrel’s diet. The diet also includes nuts, seeds, and fruit of trees such as hickory beech or flowering dogwood. The young squirrels will leave the nest and hit the ground after 10 weeks and be mature enough to live on their own in 14 to 15 weeks.
More social than other types of squirrels, the Gray Squirrel may share a shelter nest with several others. Nests are difficult to spot in the summer with the green leaves that constructed the nest acting as camouflage but as the tree begins to lose its leaves, the nests are easily visible.
- Running up, down, and around trees is considered to be part of the Grey Squirrels’ courtship ritual.
- Gray Squirrels do not mate for life and are rather polygamous.
- Males begin mating between 9 and 11 months old while females begin mating around 6 to 8 months.
- Squirrels normally have 1 or 2 litters a year consisting of 2 to 3 youths.
- Although it’s not as common, some Gray Squirrels are all black.
- Both male and female squirrels build the nest, but only the female will rear the offspring.
- It’s normal for a squirrel to live for about 5 years.
- The tail is unique in that it is used for balance, shade from the sun, shelter from the rain, and as a blanket.
- Squirrels bury their food and dig it up in the winter when food sources are scarce. However, the stashes that they either forget about or do not need will be used as nutrients for the plants in the area.