White squirrels are rare

Always on the move

A portrait of the squirrel

Squirrels are right at the top of the popularity list of us humans. Her goblin-like shape with finger-like toes on the short forelegs as well as her daring climbing skills and making manikins certainly contribute to this.

  • Squirrel - Photo: Frank Derer

  • Squirrel jumping - Photo: NABU / Andreas Teske

  • Squirrel - Photo: Kathrin Raedel

More croissants | Squirrel sayings

Something rustles and nibbles in the hazelnut bush. Then a red-brown animal scurries away, balancing neatly over the branches, jumping over to the beech and climbing up the trunk at breakneck speed. The long bushy tail and the typical shape leave no doubt that it was a squirrel.

Bushy tail as a blanket

Squirrels are right at the top of the popularity charts for us humans. Her goblin-like shape with finger-like toes on her short front legs, her daring climbing skills and making manikins as well as her seemingly non-stop busyness and in some places the tame behavior on walking paths certainly contribute to this.

Squirrel - Photo: Gaby Schröder

The tail, which is almost 20 centimeters long, bushy and hairy, enables them to live on trees; it functions as a balance, steering and rowing aid. In addition, the tail has tasks in communication with conspecifics - and in thermoregulation, because it can completely cover a curled up croissant. This property is found in the Latin species name "Sciurus", which means something like "the one shading himself with his tail". Of course, you don't make big jumps with your tail alone. Strong hind legs and sharp claws are also necessary. The latter also provide support for head-down climbing, an ability that squirrels share with the annual bird, the nuthatch.

Squirrel in winter - Photo: Frank Derer

Squirrel skins vary widely. In addition to the belly, which is always white, the coat color ranges from light fox red to black. The intermediate stage has a chocolate-brown back that merges into the white belly via fox-red. Black fur is longer, denser, and insulates better. Therefore, black animals are more common in higher, damp and cool areas. Which gender a "squirrel" belongs to is not immediately recognizable but only up close. In males, except in the sexually inactive autumn months, the testicles are recognizable and females have eight teats for breastfeeding.

Meal made from fruits and young birds

Squirrels mainly live on energy-rich fruits and seeds. Beech, oak, pine, maple and spruce are particularly popular, as are chestnuts and nuts. In addition, they do not disdain buds, flowers, galls, mushrooms and animal food. Before winter, squirrels eat very little winter fat and instead hide food in depots that they plunder when there is a food shortage. By hiding, squirrels contribute to the spread of tree and shrub species. Coniferous and mixed forests are a more favorable habitat than deciduous forests, the fruits of which fall to the ground are also used by other animals. Cones hanging high in conifers need to be shared with fewer food competitors.

Squirrels themselves appear as predators of bird species whose nests they plunder. How much influence they exert has hardly been investigated. And apparently the cute furry animal is less resentful of looting nests than other animal species.

  • Squirrel - Photo: NABU / Gaby Schröder

  • Squirrel - Photo: Tom Kanni

  • Squirrel in a dark color variant - Photo: Frank Derer

Squirrels are diurnal and do not hibernate. In summer they are out and about early in the morning and in the afternoon with a midday siesta in between. In autumn food is collected all day and in cold winter they are only active for a few hours, depending on the weather. Squirrel's roaming areas are very variable in size, depending on the habitat and food available. In winter they are smaller, in summer they can cover tens of hectares.

No summer day without a siesta

For night rest and regular lunch breaks, the croissants retreat to tree hollows and Kobel, as their tree nests are called. These padded brushwood balls have an interior diameter of 15 centimeters. Individual kobel accommodate only one user, so-called throw kobel the mother and offspring. Squirrels often have several goblins in use.

Squirrel changing fur - Photo: Peter Vogel

Mating takes place from December / January through to summer. During this time it is easy to witness wild hunts in which the partners chase each other noisily in spirals up and down the tree trunks and are rather careless. Males smell females ready to mate at a distance of over one and a half kilometers. The driving force are the females, who also decide which male is to be used after days of advertising. After 38 days of gestation, two to five young, each weighing ten grams, are born and the female takes care of them alone. The first fur hairs sprout around the eighth day of life, at 32 days the eyes open.

Lots of foxes, lots of squirrels

Relatively little is known about the stock situation of the squirrels. Depending on the food supply, their number fluctuates considerably. Until the 1960s there were significantly higher stocks than today. Poor forest quality and the islanding of the landscape can contribute to the decline in the number of squirrels. Of the predators, hawks and martens target squirrels. Positive population trends in southern Germany are attributed to high fox numbers, as these reduce the number of martens to the advantage of the squirrels.

The latest competition from squirrels is gray and comes from North America: Since their introduction in England in 1876, gray squirrels have been spreading increasingly at the expense of the traditional red-browns - and not only in the British Isles, but recently also in Italy and Switzerland.

Stefan Bosch

More croissants

The family of the squirrels comprises 230 species, which are at home all over the world except Australia and the polar regions. In addition to the tree squirrels, there are cave-dwelling squirrels such as marmots, chipmunks, prairie squirrels, flying squirrels and the ground squirrels, which are also native to Europe. The flying squirrels form another subfamily.

Squirrel sayings

"The devil is a squirrel" is a popular saying and means that you are never immune to unpleasant surprises. According to an old popular belief, the incarnate should show himself in such small, harmless beings as a squirrel.

The term “Aktion Eichhörnchen” is aimed at the food depots for winter food shortages when supplies are hoarded, and it is well known that “the squirrel eats with difficulty” means that a project is tedious and difficult to carry out.

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