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Creature Feature: Eastern Gray Squirrel

By Lauren Nikiel

The creature scurries from tree to tree, along the height of the fence, and up to the long stretch of branches that he has set his eyes upon. He wears predominantly gray fur with a touch of brown. Behind him trails a bushy tail as long as his body.

Today, we are learning about the Eastern Gray Squirrel! This furry friend is native to North America and is just one of over 200 squirrel species around the world. This creature lives in the trees, and frolics in parks, wooded forests, and backyards. The Eastern Gray Squirrel enjoys a diet of tree bark, corn, wheat, nuts, seeds, and the flower buds of a variety of trees.

Have you ever watched a squirrel bury a piece of food and wondered why they behave this way? This is because this tree-dweller engages in a behavior called scatter hoarding —when a squirrel hides and buries food to be used during the winter. This is a method of preparation to avoid starvation when food is scarce in the winter.

The Eastern Gray Squirrel has an incredible sense of smell and uses this sense of smell and memory in order to find their buried food when it is time to eat. Not only does the heightened sense of smell come in handy when gathering sources of nourishment, but it also helps the squirrel identify predators.

Squirrels are smart—many common behaviors of the squirrel prove this. They pretend to bury their food, for example, if they think they are being watched or hunted by another animal. They communicate mainly through body language: different postures, tail movements, and vocal sounds.

Squirrels hide seeds that grow into plants when springtime comes around. This is called seed dispersal. The behavior supports a variety of new plant life, and in turn, benefits the squirrel’s access to food and shelter.

In the wild, the Eastern Gray Squirrel lives for about 12 years. Squirrels who are rescued and placed into sanctuaries or educational facilities can live for up to 20 years. In colder climates, squirrels have a hard time storing fat, and often have shorter lifespans because they are more vulnerable to diseases.

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