Kyra Abbott ‘24, Student Life Editor
Squirrels are often unappreciated. They invade peaceful bird feeders with noisy chitters, they chew through almost anything they can get their paws on, and they run across the road in a safe manner just to turn back around, a split second later, to nearly get rolled over by oncoming traffic.
Many individuals may be unaware that Jan. 21 is National Squirrel Appreciation Day. The creation of this day originated from Christy Hargrove. According to the website, National Day 365, “Christy Hargrove created the squirrel appreciation day from Asheville, North Carolina, in the year 2001. She is a wildlife rehabilitation specialist, [and] she created the day to encourage people to be kind towards the squirrels.” January also marks the most daunting time for squirrels, for their food supply starts to dwindle due to the cold and harsh weather conditions.
There are several reasons why squirrels deserve better regards than they receive. Contrary to popular opinion, nature’s bushy-tailed friends are not set on destroying everything in their path; they have a reason for their annoying chewing habits. Squirrels must chew on things frequently, so that they can grind their fast-growing front teeth down. Robert McCleery, an associate professor in the department of wildlife ecology and conservation, said, “If they don’t chew on something, their teeth are going to grow into their lower jaw and skull.” Therefore, it is crucial for the little rodents to gnaw on something any chance they get so that they do not cause themselves any pain.
In addition, squirrels are, quite literally, the gardeners of nature. They have a special role in the habitat in which they live, especially if they inhabit a forest ecosystem. Squirrels will search for seeds — their main source of nutrition. When they find the seeds, they will take them and bury them underground. McCleery said, “…often, when they go back and look for [the seeds], they forget where they are. When this happens, they are effectively planting seeds.” Squirrels are constantly helping plant life effectively grow, even if they, themselves, are unaware of the impact of their squirrely actions.
Also, squirrels exhibit puzzling behaviors that are quite amusing to watch. The two main behaviors of squirrel nature that stick out are chasing and omnivorous scavenging. For example, “ever see one squirrel in hot pursuit of another squirrel? That’s a mating chase,” McCleery said. This is one action that a squirrel will exhibit when they are trying to impress their soon-to-be mate. In addition, squirrels have a unique system of behavior with the acorns they eat. They will pick up the acorn and rub their face on it in order to mark their scent on the seed. This helps the squirrel detect their acorn when it comes time to find it again. They seem to initiate an affectionate relationship with the acorn victim before they devour it for nutrients.
What is more, squirrels will fearlessly stand up to someone bigger than them. Squirrels are not as idiotic as they seem; they have a sense of logic when it comes to predators and humans getting too close. If the squirrels feel threatened in any way, they seem to turn on a motivating song in their head, which could be titled “Squirrel Power.” They start to act in an alarming sort of way beginning with a rolling chirping noise. “As they make that noise, they may also rapidly flick their tails over their heads,” McCleery said. While all of this seems to be nonsense in the ears of humans, squirrels are only trying to say one thing: “back off.” They will perform these so-called “intimidating actions” when threatened by a predator — humans included — or even when their own kind is invading their territory.
In addition, there are many different species of squirrels, which vary in color, shape and size. In fact, there are over 200 different species of squirrels. The website, National Day 365, said, “Squirrels are categorized as tree squirrels, ground squirrels, and flying squirrels according to their types.” And the sizes of the squirrels vary from five inches to three feet in height, starting with the pygmy squirrel and ending with the giant black squirrel. Many photographers and wildlife researchers would attest that all types of squirrels are each unique in their own right and all super cute.
Moreover, squirrels are like a character one would read about in a novel; they are full of mystery, and it seems like no one can figure them out. McCleery said, “There is still so much that’s not known about squirrels.” For this reason, experts find that squirrels are a very interesting mammal to study and observe. Some interesting squirrel topics that researchers enjoy studying include the following: squirrel behavior, intelligence levels, and population rates of squirrels in different ecosystems.
Now, you may be wondering: what can you do to celebrate Squirrel Appreciation Day? Well, it is quite simple. For instance, social media is a very valuable resource to spread awareness; people can hype up the importance of squirrels and share interesting facts and information. In addition, squirrels — like all organisms — need to eat. Therefore, one should make it a habit to lay out seeds or water in their backyard, so that squirrels are not faced with starvation in poor weather conditions. Furthermore, individuals could go on a scenic walk and take pictures of squirrels and observe their interesting behavior. Likewise, the pictures could easily be posted on social media to raise attention and support for squirrels. Last but not least, families could host a game of “at-home jeopardy” to test each other on how well they know their facts about nature’s eccentric, yet adorable animals.
Remember, squirrels have a significant impact on their environment — the same one we all live in. So, there is no excuse to not be able to return the favor to squirrels; this being said, make a better habit of enjoying their presence. Rather than focusing on their annoying qualities, embrace their natural characteristics, such as their lovable little faces and bushy little tails.