Nature’s Clowns – Clever and Entertaining – or Nuisance
The small gray squirrel found throughout our state is the Eastern Gray Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis. It is the most common of the three squirrels found in Florida.
This squirrel is salt and pepper, grizzled with tan hairs in its body coat, and a buff underside. Sciurus has small, rounded ears and a long bushy tail. The tips of the hairs on the tail are white or gray. The species is 16 to 20 inches long overall including its eight-inch tail.
The word squirrel comes from a Greek word meaning “he who sits in the shadow of his tail.” Its bushy tail provides balance, enables unbelievable maneuverability and acts like a parachute during a fall. It is used as a blanket on cold nights and flaunted during mating season. Sciurus swishes its tail when disturbed while chattering or “barking” to announce any perceived disturbance.
Gray squirrels are omnivores that enjoy a varied diet of acorns, nuts, fruits, berries, insects and bird eggs. During the day, it forages the ground and trees. Its incisor teeth grow constantly, are frequently sharpened, and kept clean.
Squirrel antics are fun to watch. Their lively acrobatic shows include high-speed chases through the trees – especially during mating season. When the chase occurs across power lines, overhead transformers or other electrical equipment, it sometimes results in a power outage. SECO installs animal guards on overhead transformers to help prevent outages and protect the squirrels and other small animals.
Squirrels are tempted by backyard feeders. Keeping squirrels out of feeders often becomes a battle of wits between human and animal. These tenacious critters usually win. Feeding squirrels is risky as they can quickly become a nuisance, chewing their way into screened porches, attics or crawl spaces to find a food source or build a nest.
Gray squirrels may breed twice a year, building a nest of leaves in treetops or hollows. Following the 45-day gestation, a litter of two to six young are born naked and eyes closed. Life expectancy at birth is one to two years. If the squirrel reaches adulthood, life expectancy is six years. The record age for a squirrel in the wild is 12 years and 20 years for a squirrel in captivity.
Column & photos by Sandi Staton – firstname.lastname@example.org
Read the full Nature’s Reflections article in the July 2018 SECO News online.