African pygmy squirrel courtesy staticflickr.com.
Squirrel, which means "shadow tail" in Greek, is a type of rodent which lives on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. They are sometimes referred to as "living fossils" because they have changed very little over the past 37 million years. Over 200 species of squirrels exist from the tiniest, the African pygmy (five inches long) to the largest, the Indian rodent (three feet long).
A squirrel has four teeth, which grow continually and come in handy for gnawing at trees and opening acorns. Squirrels eat mainly nuts, leaves, seeds and insects. Tree squirrels eat eggs, bark and baby birds. Flying insects eat nuts, fruit and baby birds. Squirrels can eat their own body weight (1.5 pounds) within a week.
Squirrels have padded feet to cushion their fall, allowing them to fall up to 20 feet comfortably; however, they can fall up to 100 feet without getting hurt, using their tail as a parachute. They can run up to 20 miles per hour, travelling in an erratic fashion to deceive predators.
An intelligent animal, the squirrel holds bogus food burials to deceive other squirrels. It buries nuts and acorns in the fall to be retrieved in the winter when food is scarce. However, the gray squirrel often forgets where it buried its acorns, and the following spring, they grow into oak trees. (See my post "From Little Acorns Grow Oak Forests" at http://alinefromlinda.blogspot.ca/2012/10/from-little-acorns-grow-oak-forests.html.
White squirrels can be found in certain parts of the United States and Canada, including the town of Exeter, Ontario, northwest of London. Other varieties include: American Red, Eastern Gray, Western Gray, Fox and Red.
Red squirrel courtesy wikimedia.org.
Squirrels are prevalent in the city and are people-friendly. One winter, we had a family of squirrels nesting in our attic.
Children's literature is full of squirrels: The Tale of the Squirrel Nutkin (Beatrix Potter), The Adventures of Chatterer the Red Squirrel (Thornton Burgess), Scaredy Squirrel (Melanie Watt) and One More Acorn (Don Freeman).