Happy Belated Squirrel Appreciation Day

by Greg Mayer

Last Saturday (Jan. 21) was Squirrel Appreciation Day, and I sort of missed it. We’ve considered squirrels and their polymorphisms here at WEIT many times, so in belated celebration, here’s a nice squirrel.

Sciurus variegatoides, Volcan Poas, Costa Rica, 29xii2011.

I didn’t miss it entirely, because Saturday was the day that one of my colleagues, who visited Costa Rica over the Christmas break, gave me a copy of her photograph of this beauty. The variegated squirrel is highly variable in color pattern: the NW Costa Rican subspecies is grayish white with black dorsal stripe (sort of like a skunk in negative).

The Washington Post’s John Kelly seems to have a thing for squirrels, and has done stories on squirrels and squirrel researchers, including my colleague Dick “Thor” Thorington of the Smithsonian. He has gotten readers to submit squirrel photos, and there’s a great slide show of them at the Post, including melanics,

Melanic squirrel, Washington Post

albinos,

Albino squirrel, Washington Post

and ones being watched by cats.

Cat and squirrel, Washington Post

Most of the pix are from the DC area, so the squirrels are mostly gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), but there are fox squirrels, flying squirrels, red squirrels, European red squirrels, and probably others in the show; it’s a good test of squirrel-id’ing ability.

Although we missed Squirrel Appreciation Day, we can begin our preparations now for Squirrel Week, which this year is April 8-14. Check out Kelly’s blog for updates and other squirrel articles.

Squirrel Week, April 8-14, 2012

28 Comments

  1. Diego
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful!

    Hmm, I wonder about the relationship of S. variegatoides to S. niger. They appear morphologically similar and both show a great deal of pelage variation. Unfortunately I don’t know of any phylogenetic work that features both species. :(

    I’d really like to see if I can find something on the whole Sciurus complex.

  2. Reinard
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Needs more Squirrel Girl. ;)

  3. S A GOULD
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Poster makes them look like Squirrel Zombies from Hell. Think they could have done a better job. In my opinion.

  4. BilBy
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Don’t forget ground squirrels – in particular the Cape ground squirrels of southern Africa: the males have HUGE testes such that they look like they are travelling on space hoppers. Professor Jane Waterman has done some excellent research on them.

  5. Posted January 23, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    I went for a five hour walk in the Kent countryside last Saturday but I didn’t see any squirrels. Nice pictures though – especially the albino.

  6. Dermot C
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Oh, the poor British native red squirrel! Since the introduction of your damned American grey squirrel to these isles (about a 100 years ago, I think), it has lost out! Now it only survives on Brownsea Island in Poole harbour, down south, and in the Lake District oop north.

    A friend from Carlisle, a great and inventive cook, regularly shoots the grey in his back garden, freezes a few and serves up a tasty squirrel chasseur; all under the nod and the wink of the local Urban Wildlife Group.

    Very sad; the red is a gorgeous animal.

    • RFW
      Posted January 23, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

      We have precisely the same difficulty on Vancouver Island. Our native squirrel is a very shy race of the Douglas squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii), one of many little red squirrel species.

      But some fool thought we needed gray squirrels, and now we have grays out the wazoo. Since grays are non-territorial but Douglases are intensely territorial, the grays have pushed the Douglases out of much of their range. In addition, the grays carry diseases very harmful to the Douglases.

      I’ve been told that the wildlife people even know who first released the damned grays, but iirc the story right, he’s probably dead by now.

      Squirrels are well known for chattering and fussing at intruders, but the VI race is, as said, very shy, and just quietly slides around to the other side of the tree it’s in.

      In all my years here, I’ve seen one three times, no more. Not because of rarity but because they stay out of sight.

      A friend on Saltspring Island has had them coming to his bird feeder for years, and they’ve gotten quite used to his presence: most unusual.

      There are black squirrels in Vancouver, probably just a melanic form of the western race of the common gray squirrel. In Vancouver’s West End, close to Stanley Park, they have no difficulty climbing up high rise apartment buildings with a rough finish and causing trouble on balconies.

    • Posted January 24, 2012 at 12:29 am | Permalink

      Dermot,

      +1 on what you said. Don’t forget that there are still a few (sadly, a few) red squirrels left up north in Scotland as well.

      The greys are vermin, foul pestilence ridden vermin who bring a fungus (I believe) which they are immune to but the reds are not.

      We are also plagued by American Signal Crayfish in our rivers, they too carry a plague that the native’s are susceptible to.

      I don’t wish to imply that anything “imported” from America is plague ridden and dangerous to native species, so I won’t. (Or, did I just do exactly that? Hmm!)

      I’m in Yorkshire (Leeds) at the moment and many of the farmer’s markets I attend are selling ready skinned squirrel – it’s a start. We should eradicate these (and all!) invaders.

      Other opinions are available though.

      Cheers,
      Norm.

      PS. Where do cats originate from – ah yes, not here!

      • Posted January 24, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        There are native cats not too far away from you (by North American standards at least). When I was visiting the Lake District last summer, I learned that the peak “Cat Bells” got its name as one of the last refuges of the Scottish wildcat in the area, but they’re still around in Scotland.

        http://www.discoverwildlife.com/british-wildlife/scottish-wildcats-caught-camera

        (As for squirrels, we used to have mostly melanic greys (in Ottawa, Canada), but it’s now about 50-50 with the regular greys. I’ve managed to win the birdfeeder battle for the time being, but I do put food scraps out for them on the windowsill to entertain the cats. The squirrels somehow seem to have a good understanding of the power of glass.)

        • Dermot C
          Posted January 24, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

          I love Cat Bells; had never heard of the ‘last redoubt of the Scottish wild cat’ story. Mind you, Rheged (the Lake District’s ancient name) is full of ancient lore, bordering on the frontier of credibility, some of which Wordsworth and Coleridge just made up.

          Beneath Cat Bells, on the western shore of Derwentwater is a coniferous forest, sight of my only ever view of the red squirrel, 15 years ago.

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 24, 2012 at 12:45 am | Permalink

      In my neck o’ the woods (SW Michigan), the red squirrels easily hold their own with the grays. And will they ever talk about it!

      I remember how reclusive the Douglas squirrel is, tho, from growing up in the Pacific NW. Perhaps in time they can work out a coexistence with the grays…?

      Hey, Brits, take back your sparrows and we’ll consider recalling our squirrels… :)

      • Posted January 24, 2012 at 12:55 am | Permalink

        Diane,

        you are very welcome to your squirrels and we would love our sparrows back. They are in short supply these days – and no-one seems to know why.

        Cheers,
        Norm.

  7. Posted January 23, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    “February Is Black Squirrel® History Month!”

    http://lotterysquirrel.com/2010/02/01/welcome-to-the-first-day-of-black-squirrel%C2%AE-history-month/

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 23, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

      Very interesting link. Both gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) and fox squirrels (Sciurus niger) can be black. The author of the linked page doesn’t seem to realize there are two species of squirrel in eastern North America that can be melanic.

      GCM

  8. Posted January 23, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    This one hit the fermented pumpkin juice in celebration a little too hard:

    • Posted January 24, 2012 at 12:33 am | Permalink

      That was sooooooo funny! Thanks.

      Cheers,
      Norm.

      PS. What do you call a squirrel that cannot climb a tree? A rat.

    • RFW
      Posted January 24, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

      But did you read the comment from the wildlife guy on the final clip of Mr. Squirrel running around in circles? It’s due to a parasite invading the squirrel’s brain. NOT CUTE.

      • Posted January 25, 2012 at 12:54 am | Permalink

        RFW,

        no, sorry, I missed that bit. I suppose the only way to find out for real is to either wait for it to sober up, of shoot it and dissect the brain? Probably a bit drastic.

        Parasites eh? Did god make them I wonder? ;-)

        Cheers,
        Norm.

  9. Dermot C
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    The grey squirrels in Hyde Park, London, sre famous for their cheek; they will come up to you and try to steal food off you. Whereas the red is extraordinarily shy and avoids human contact altogether. In my local park, last month I saw 5 greys within 10 yards of each other, relatively, but not too, nervous of my proximity, yet I’m sure this would not have happened 20 years ago. They are increasingly moving within range of our species.

    It reminded me of the British fetishism (as shown by their regular appearance on Xmas cards) for the robin. Here, the robin redbreast is a naturalistic symbol of Yuletide. In Britain, robins are very tame and willing to approach very closely to humans, but on the European continent, they are extremely shy; and have a completely different ‘culture’. For this reason, Europeans are initially baffled by the British attachment to the robin.

  10. Jim Thomerson
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    Back before the drought of the 1950s, in the Texas Hill Country, mother would often go out with the 22 and come back with a couple of squirrels for lunch. They are good fried, or with dumplings.

    I was out at the ranch for a few days working on the house. A rock squirrel female had babies under the house. I had a bunch of old peeled pecans, and in about three days time she would sit on my knee and eat pecans. Once she bit my finger by accident, not hard, and was really apologetic.

    I’d like to have a pet squirrel who would come around from time to time to see if I might have a peanut for him/her.

  11. Dave
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    You are wrong. Squirrel Appreciation Day was last fall – that’s the day I found they had eaten their way into my eaves. I really appreciated it!

  12. sciurislaughter
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    I once hit a true albino squirrel with my jeep. Bucks Co. Pennsylvania. It dashed out of the forest and there was nothing I could do but cringe at the thump while registering a flash of peripheral whiteness.

    Beautiful pelage.

  13. Achrachno
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    The cat in that picture, looking through the slider, doesn’t look very healthy.

    • D'oh!
      Posted January 23, 2012 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

      The kitty looks very old to me.

  14. JoeB
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    About twenty years ago, I went from my home in Hawaii to Brevard, NC, to participate in a bear research project. I learned that Brevard has a large population of white squirrels; they even have an annual festival to celebrate them. I was most struck by the local myth that they were introduced from their native home in … Hawaii! Or an island near Hawaii (?), or maybe China (you know, just past Hawaii). We do have two endemic mammals in Hawaii. They each had to cross several thousand miles of ocean to get here, which they did by two very different modes of transportation. There is a 2010 paper on the genetics of the Brevard squirrels by John C. Hodge; google squirrel-Brevard-Hodge.
    I have a story very like Jim Thomerson’s above. About 1950 we “dropped in” at the farm of my Uncle Lawrence and Aunt Mary, east of Quincy, IL. It was a three hour drive in the ’36 Chevy from Decatur. We went several times a year to visit grandma, aunts, uncles, and cousins. My mother may have written her youngest sister that we might come, but we couldn’t call first—we didn’t have a phone. Aunt Mary took a 22 down from the wall, loaded it, stepped just outside the summer kitchen, looked down the lane for any skulking game warden, took careful aim, and fired twice. Two squirrels for lunch. I was one impressed eleven year old.

  15. Diane G.
    Posted January 24, 2012 at 12:49 am | Permalink

    This is great news! Can Possum Appreciation Day be far behind?!

  16. IW
    Posted January 24, 2012 at 4:24 am | Permalink

    Admit it, JC, you had this article squirreled away for just an occasion like this….

  17. Blondin
    Posted January 24, 2012 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    “Show us ur nutz!”


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