Pitara Kids Network

Squirrelling it Away

Chimpu and his grandfather had gone to the park for an evening walk. After Chimpu had played with his friends for over an hour, he came back sweating and tired, to sit beside his grandfather at the park bench. There he found his grandfather throwing peanuts, brought from home, to the scampering squirrels at his feet.

In fact, bushy-tailed squirrels are a common sight in the city’s parks and gardens. This frisky little rodent is constantly scampering around, and it is indeed rare to come across one perfectly still.

It has long been observed that tree squirrels often stash away nuts in holes of trees where they stay. This is done by squirrels and most animals as a stand-by measure during the cold winter months when food becomes scarce.

Some tree squirrels, on the other hand, bury their nuts in the ground. More often than not, the squirrels hide it in so many holes that they forget where they have buried them! Some of these hidden-and-forgotten nuts, uneaten seeds and other squirrel delicacies, germinate and grow into new plants.

The grey squirrel, for instance, tends to bury acorns about 100 ft away from the tree that produced it. Sometimes their sensitive noses help them retrieve their cache, while at other times the forgotten seed germinates.

Red squirrel with nut

A survey carried out by Canadian scientists shows that the red squirrels of North America and Canada start hoarding nuts for their young even before they’re born. Apparently these rodents are just as foresighted as human parents!

The female red squirrel stashes away nuts for herself and creates an additional food cache, nearly four months before her offspring is born. This is so similar to humans saving up for their future child. And when the baby squirrel is all set to leave the nest, the mother squirrel gives her young, her extra storage of nuts.

What is particularly exciting is the fact that this is perhaps the first time scientists have proved that animals show concern for their young – before they are born. The research team insists that the young squirrels (that receive the nuts from their mother) are more likely to survive in the long run, as they do not have to immediately forage for food and expose themselves to predators.

Did you know that squirrels are found in all parts of the world except Australia and the deserts of Africa? The common striped squirrel, that we often see, belongs to a group of rodents that includes the ground squirrels, flying squirrels and chipmunks. Squirrels come in all shapes and range in size from about five inches for the pygmy squirrels of Africa, to the 36-inch long giant squirrels of Asia.

Squirrels are chiefly of two types – tree-dwelling and ground-dwelling. There is yet another subspecies known as flying squirrels.

Tree squirrels spend most of their time in trees and descend to the ground in search of food. They are active during the day sleeping at night in the trees, snuggled up in leafy nests. Ground squirrels usually dig their own burrows, while others prefer settling down in a hole in the ground or in an opening between rocks.

Contrary to their popular name, flying squirrels, like other ‘flying’ reptiles (snakes, geckos, lizards) cannot fly. They merely glide from higher to lower tree branches by means of a blanket-like membrane of furry skin stretched between the front and hind legs. This membrane is called the ‘patagium’ (pronounced pa-tha-ghee-yum) and acts like a parachute helping the animal to engage in controlled gliding.

Although the distance of most glides is no more than a few feet, the giant flying squirrel of Asia has been known to glide more than 1,300 feet!