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What Time is it in Nature: Gray Squirrel

December 7, 2012

The Eastern Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) have been very active at Prairie Ridge as they prepare for the winter.  You’ll find them scampering through the wooded areas of the grounds.

Gray Squirrel

Eastern Gray Squirrels are tree squirrels in the squirrel family Sciuridae.   As their name suggests, Grey Squirrels typically sport gray fur with white bellies, though there are also brown, white, and black forms.  Adult Gray Squirrels are 9-12 inches in length with a 7-10 inch bushy tail protruding off the back end.  For the most part, these squirrels feed on seeds and other plant-based foods, but they will occasionally eat insects, other small animals, and eggs.

Like many squirrels, Gray Squirrels are scatter-hoarders and store food in numerous small stores over their areas.  These stores may be used for short- or long-term storage.  When food is particularly abundant, the squirrels might bury large quantities of food to hide it for just a few hours, until they can redistribute their hoard to other locations for longer storage.  These food stores will become important during the winter as they are often the only source of food available.

While the Prairie Ridge Gray Squirrels are currently preparing for winter by burying food, reproduction will take precedence in the spring.  Gray Squirrels build large nests from dry leaves and twigs high in trees.  These nests, called dreys, will protect the very helpless young when they are born.  The babies mature quickly, growing fur and opening their eyes before leaving the nest only 10 weeks after birth.

Gray Squirrels are one of the few mammals that can climb down trees face first.  Unlike most of their rodent relatives, they can turn their back feet backwards, allowing them to dangle downward from their hind legs.  This quirk in their skeletal structure helps give tree squirrels their amazing agility and allows them to race up and down trees with ease.

The Gray Squirrels at Prairie Ridge have been busy burying food under the leaves in the wooded areas and occasionally under piles of mulch along the forest trail.  You might be able to see ten or more squirrels on the grounds in a single trip, so come on out and see them!

What Time is it in Nature is a weekly feature highlighting the current plants, animals, and other wildlife at the Musuem’s public outdoor facility, Prairie Ridge Ecostation. Find out more about the natural happenings at Prairie Ridge at our What Time is it in Nature Archive!

(Photo by Chris Goforth)

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