Eurasian Red Squirrel
This attractive little mammal has a chestnut colored upper body, with a buff to cream underside, distinctive ear tufts and a very fluffy tail. The color of the coat ranges from black to red, with red being the most common color in Great Britain. The squirrel sheds its coat two times a year, having a thinner coat in summer and a thicker, darker one in winter, its ear tufts being noticeably larger between August and November. The Eurasian red squirrel, with its lighter, redder coat color, ear-tufts and smaller size is able to be distinguished from the American eastern grey squirrel
Red squirrels occupy coniferous woods in Siberia and northern Europe, preferring Scots pine, Siberian pine and Norway spruce. In southern and western Europe they live in broad-leaved woods where there is a better source of food year round from the mixture of trees and shrubs. In most parts of the British Isles as well as Italy, broad-leaved woodlands are less suitable now because of competition from the introduced Grey squirrel.
Habits and lifestyle
Red squirrels are usually most active during the morning or late afternoon. This is when they eat the most food. In spring and summer, they remain resting in their nests around midday to escape the extreme heat. In winter, this midday rest is likely to be very short or missed entirely. Although these squirrels spend the majority of their time up in the trees, they come to the ground to search for food and to bury food items. Eurasian red squirrels don't hibernate, but they rest in their nests to keep safe during strong winds or bad storms, coming out only to find food. Females remain in their nest for long periods to look after their young. Red squirrels do not form groups, but males will gather within a female's territory to compete for the chance to mate with her.
dray, colony, scurry
Diet and nutrition
Red squirrels eat mostly the seeds from trees, and will neatly strip conifer cones to obtain the seeds, nuts (particularly hazelnuts but also chestnuts and beech), berries, and young shoots. They occasionally eat bird eggs or chicks.
Mating can take place in late winter from February to March between June and July in summer. Some females may mate with a number of different males. The gestation period is 36-40 days, and usually 3-5 young are born, but the number can range from 1-8. Naked, blind and pink, the young develop slowly, with their eyes not opening before they are 27 days old. By day 30, they are covered in fur and begin to go outside the nest. Within 7 weeks they are active outside the nest and become fully independent soon after weaning. They have established their own territories by 9-11 weeks of age. They are sexually mature when they are 1 year old but continue to develop.
pup, kit, kitten
Globally, there appear to be no major threats to Red squirrels at present. Locally, these squirrels may suffer from habitat loss and fragmentation, overhunting, pet trade, and competition with introduced species. In Britain and Italy, Red squirrels are partially displaced by introduced Eastern grey squirrels from North America.
According to IUCN, Red squirrels are described as common throughout most of its range, but the data for the worldwide population are not available. The Red squirrel population in the United Kingdom is known to have drastically reduced due to competition with introduced grey squirrel. Fewer than 140,000 were thought to exist in 2013, about 85% of them in Scotland. Overall, currently Eurasian red squirrels are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List; however their numbers today are decreasing.
Eurasian red squirrels effect forest communities by seed predation and also the caching of tree seeds, as forgotten caches may grow into new trees.
Fun facts for kids
- Red squirrels have two toes and four fingers on each paw.
- Red squirrels can find their buried food in more than 1 foot of snow
- The Red squirrel is thought to have reached the British Isles via Europe approximately 10,000 years ago, when the last Ice Age came to an end.
- Squirrels do not hibernate, but in winter they eat from the supplies of nuts and seeds they have buried.
- Grey and Red squirrels cannot breed together.
- Only 1 in 6 Red squirrels lives until its first birthday due to disease, starvation or being eaten as prey.
- Red squirrels and their nests have protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
- They can swim and they can hang upside down.