The squirrel attracts sympathy with its adorable face and plumed tail. Providing, it is known to store its food in times of famine. Head to forests, parks and gardens to meet this rodent with a temperament solitary.
Red squirrel, native single
Squirrels are mammals belonging to the rodent order and the sciuridae family. Europe matters 12 species – 6 natives and 6 introduced – among which we can mention:
- Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), the best known, is the only native squirrel present in France. Its red fur, white belly and bushy tail make it easily identifiable. Its famous plumed tail – which can measure up to 23 cm long – serves mainly as a pendulum to keep the balance. Strictly forest and arboreal, it measures 18 to 25 cm and weighs around 330 g. Considered endangered in Great Britain, following the invasion of the gray squirrel, it is not yet threatened in France but remains under surveillance;
- Gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) is the largest squirrel found in Europe (between 400 and 600 g). Native to North America, it was introduced to England at the end of the XIXe century by an individual. Its expansion causes problems both ecological (elimination of red squirrels by food competition and transmission of a virus) and economic (debarking of a large number of forest species). It is considered by the IUCN as an invasive species. It is less agile in trees than red (because of its weight) and is distinguished by the gray color of its dress and the absence of brushes on the ears;
- The Siberian chipmunk (Tamias sibiricus) or Korean squirrel, was first observed in France in the late sixties. It was during this decade that this new pet was marketed in pet shops and some specimens released into the wild. Most of the populations are settled in Île-de-France and a second home has developed in Picardy. This little rodent earthly lives in a burrow that serves as a shelter, delivery room and pantry. Its coat is adorned with dark stripes: five on its back and three on its tail.
- Pallas’ squirrel (Callosciurus erythraeus), native to eastern Asia, was introduced by an individual on the Cap d’Antibes at the end of the sixties. In the early 2000s, it extended its range in the Alpes-Maritimes then in the Bouches-du-Rhône. The species is considered to be invasive with regard to the attacks sanitary that it is likely to cause to the red squirrel and to the small avian fauna, to the degradations which it causes on fruit crops and human infrastructures (telephone cables, wooden houses …). The rodent is distinguished from red by a more massive appearance, an olive-brown dorsal coat and a brick-red (never white) belly.
The squirrel, a hyperactive animal
A diurnal animal, the squirrel often takes advantage of the dawn to be active until sunset. He is lonely, except in the mating season, and very territorial. In addition to looking for food, the male spends some of his time roaming his home range to spot females that will be receptive during the short breeding season. Always careful but very curious, the rodent is most often held in height but frequents readily our gardens and can be approached in the cities where it is accustomed to the passers-by. The squirrel runs on branches over 30 meters high, descends and climbs trunks, jumps from one tree to another with surprising ease. After an intense day, he returns to his nest at nightfall. Animal do not hibernate but reduced its activity in very cold and strong winds.
The squirrel: arboreal and sometimes terrestrial
We meet squirrels on all continents. Some species live mainly in trees (red squirrel) where they build their nests high up, firmly wedged in a fork of branches. In the shape of a ball about 50 cm in diameter, the cottage is made from intertwined twigs and lined with moss. Squirrels often build several shelters to outsmart predators. The rufous species is subservient to the forests of conifers and mixed, particularly spruces and pines which provide it with abundant food all year round. The gray squirrel appears to be more adapted to forests of hardwood. Rather terrestrial species, such as the Siberian chipmunk, live in burrows.
The squirrel participates in the ecosystem
The rodent is omnivorous with a vegetarian tendency. In spring and summer, it spends a large part of its day foraging for food. Its menu consists of berries, flowers, buds, fruits, pine cones, mushrooms, hazelnuts, bark and seeds. Occasionally he doesn’t disdain a few slugs, snails, eggs of birds, insects and small mammals. This far-sighted animal buries seeds and fruits in anticipation of winter. Thus, in the cold season, it recovers its food, even in the snow, thanks to its highly developed sense of smell. By sometimes forgetting his landfill sites, he actively contributes to reforestation because the buried seeds end up germinating and giving birth to a new plant.
The squirrel: up to two litters per year
The squirrel breeds in winter and spring. The female has several estrous cycles, but is fertilizable just one day during each cycle. After a gestation period of 38 to 40 days, she gives birth to three to four young, between February and April and between May and August because two staves annuals are possible under favorable conditions. If a predator is prowling nearby, the mother carries her offspring, one by one, to another nest. The little ones open their eyes around one month. Breastfed for six weeks, they then learn to feed on more consistent foods and leave the nest around a month and a half. The life expectancy of newborns remains low because a significant mortality occurs during the first months (predation). Young people reach their sexual maturity between 10 and 12 months.
Squirrel: a vulnerable population
Among the main predators of the red squirrel are the pine marten, the fox, the wild cat, the northern goshawk, the buzzard, even the dog and especially the domestic cat when the small rodent approaches the dwellings to eat. As to magpies, they generally act in pairs: one is responsible for removing the mother from the nest when the other grabs a baby. However, natural predators take only a tiny part of the red squirrel populations which are further weakened by the fragmentation of their habitat. collisions with vehicles and the presence of food competitors. The rodent can live about 7 years in the wild and up to 10 years in captivity. In France, the red squirrel is a protected species also included in Annex III of the Berne Convention.