Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Missouri Squirrels

Squirrels--they sometimes drive us crazy with their habit of getting into things, making messes, and destroying things….but they’re so darn cute!  They’re like adorable furry little monsters.
 The Fox Squirrel
We have three types of squirrels here in Missouri--the Fox Squirrel, the Grey Squirrel and the Southern Flying Squirrel.  The Fox and Grey Squirrel are the most commonly seen, but the Southern Flying Squirrel does live throughout the state.

The Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger) is most common in urban areas and are the largest of the three species ranging from about 19 to 29 inches long, nose to tail, and weighs about 1 to 3 pounds.  The fox squirrel was given its name because of the red-orange color of the fur, but also can be found with black, white, or shades of grey or brown fur.  These squirrels are often found foraging on the ground, but they do need trees for escape, cover and dens.  Generally, the fox squirrel spends its entire year in a 10 to 40 acre range, depending on the availability of food sources.
 The Grey Squirrel
The grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)is somewhat smaller than the fox squirrel; it’s only about 14 to 21 inches long and weighs about 1 to 2 pounds.  These squirrels are grey, with their undersides and tail tips being white.  This squirrel generally prefers areas with more forest cover then fox squirrels.  The grey squirrel also prefers to spend more time in trees and forages on the ground when all the acorns and other nuts have fallen from their respective trees.  They spend most of their lives around one or two den trees, hardly ever traveling more than 200 yards from home.

The southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans) is only about 8-10 inches long--the smallest of the three.  Because of this species’ nocturnal habit, it is seldom seen even though it lives throughout the state.  This squirrel generally lives in deciduous woodlands, with plenty of dead trees or rotten snags.
 The Southern Flying Squirrel is seldom seen due to it's nocturnal habits
The Southern Flying Squirrel doesn’t actually fly; it glides with two loose flaps of skin along both sides of its body, extended from front legs to back, and they use their flat tail as a rudder.  Their home range is usually no more than an acre.  The flying squirrel is strictly nocturnal and very shy.  They use their keen since of smell and large eyes to forage at night.  Unlike the other tree squirrels, the flying squirrel doesn’t cause as many problems, but they may move into attics or walls and cause damage.  During the winter, this squirrel gathers into communal dens and may use hollow tree cavities.

The woodland habitats for squirrels must provide adequate cover for protection and a nearby food source.  A pair of squirrels will use two to three leaf nests or dens at any given time of the year.  Often tree cavities are in short supply and are not often found in trees that are less than 30 to 40 years old.  Squirrels will often build and use leaf nests in the summertime, but they are not as desired because they are not as safe as cavity dens.

If you don’t have an abundance of squirrels where you live, pack your picnic lunch and come visit us at the World Bird Sanctuary.  Our woods are teeming with these entertaining little creatures.  If you sit quietly at one of our picnic benches you are almost guaranteed a squirrel sighting.  If at first you don’t see them, listen for a rustling sound in the leaf litter in our woods.  It’s almost assuredly a squirrel.

Submitted by Jaime Sansouci, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist        


Anonymous said...

We have had tiny grey squirrels with white on the backs of their ears. They were in in large numbers a few years back but seem to have been driven out by larger regular grey squirrels,my broyher-in-law from Michigan called them "Mutant squirrels and mentioned that he had never seen them before...I only bring this up because he is a long time hunter with decades of experience in Missouri, Michigan, and other states.

Photog said...

It is most likely that the tiny squirrels that you were seeing were the young of that year. As with many species that depend on a good acorn crop we have bumper crop years for squirrels. Our neighborhood seems to be a haven for grey squirrels, and a couple of years ago we did see an unusually large number of youngsters.