Eurasian Red Squirrel
The Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) is a species of tree squirrel in the genus Sciurus common throughout Europe and Asia. It lives in trees and its long tail helps the squirrel to balance and steer when jumping from tree to tree and running along branches. The bushy tail may also keep the animal warm during sleep.
The Red squirrel has sharp curved claws to help it to climb and descend broad tree trunks, thin branches, and even house walls. Its strong hind legs let it leap gaps between trees. The coat of the Red squirrel varies in colour with the time of year and location. There are several coat colour morphs ranging from black to red. Red coats are most common in Great Britain; in other parts of Europe and Asia different coat colours coexist within populations, much like hair colour in some human populations. The underside of the squirrel is always white-cream in colour. The Red squirrel sheds its coat twice a year, switching from a thinner summer coat to a thicker, darker winter coat with noticeably larger ear tufts (a prominent distinguishing feature of this species) between August and November. A lighter, redder overall coat colour, along with the ear tufts (in adults) and smaller size, distinguish the Eurasian red squirrel from the American eastern grey squirrel. The red colour is for camouflage when seen against the bark of pine trees.
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.
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 nests 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.
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 reproductively mature when they are 1 year old but continue to develop.
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 their 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 the 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 affect forest communities through seed predation and also the caching of tree seeds, as forgotten caches may grow into new trees.