10 Nutty Facts to Make You Appreciate Squirrels

Why exactly is National Squirrel Appreciation Day (January 21) so popular? Maybe it’s because squirrels are adorable, and extremely fun to watch. Maybe it’s the many hats they wear (not real hats — please don’t put hats on squirrels). What I mean is, they play a variety of roles, like acrobat, bandit, gardener, trickster, and much more. I set out to discover why these creatures are worthy of their own day, and after you read the facts I found, you might just appreciate squirrels a little more.

1. Squirrels can find food buried beneath a foot of snow.

Food is important during the cold winter months for squirrels. It makes sense, therefore, that some species are able to smell food under a foot of snow. The squirrel will then dig a tunnel under the snow, following the scent to their (or another squirrel’s) buried treasure.

Snow covered squirrel in Massachusetts by Susan Licht.
Snow covered squirrel in Massachusetts by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Susan Licht.

2. A squirrel’s front teeth never stop growing.

This is a common characteristic of other rodents, as well. The word “rodent” actually derives from the Latin “rodere,” which means to gnaw.

Photo by Christine Haines.
Squirrels must gnaw to keep their teeth at the right length. Photo by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Christine Haines.

3. Squirrels may lose 25 percent of their buried food to thieves.

And that’s just from members of their own species! Scatter hoarders (squirrels with multiple caches of food) have a difficult time keeping an eye on all of their hidden food. Fellow squirrels or birds often take advantage of this for a free meal.

Squirrel Peering Over Fence by Michaela Wolf
Squirrels can be rather sneaky, stealing nuts from fellow squirrels. This one spies over a fence in Pennsylvania, taken by Michaela Wolf.

4. They zigzag to escape predators.

When squirrels feel threatened, they run away in a zigzag pattern. This is an incredibly useful strategy to escape hawks and other predators. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work so well on cars. Consider slowing down and giving squirrels a brake!

Red-tail hawk trying to get a squirrel out of a knot hole in a log, where it had taken refuge. Photo by Cara Litberg.
Squirrels may also take cover when threatened. This red-tail hawk tries to get a squirrel out of a knot hole in a log, where it had taken refuge. Photo by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Cara Litberg.

5. Squirrels may pretend to bury a nut to throw off potential thieves.

Squirrels have been observed engaging in “deceptive caching.” This is where a squirrel digs a hole and vigorously covers it up again, but without depositing the nut. It seems this is done to throw off potential food thieves.

Squirrel digging in the garden by Tom Gill.
Squirrel digging in the garden by Tom Gill.

6. A newborn squirrel is about an inch long.

If you come across one of these itty-bitty baby squirrels, please consult these resources, which will advise you what to do. That will help give the baby squirrel its best chance at survival.

Baby Gray Squirrel by Audrey
Baby gray squirrel at approximately 4 weeks old in the care of wildlife rehabber. Photo by Audrey.

7. Humans introduced squirrels to most of our major city parks.

The story about why U.S. parks are full of squirrels is truly fascinating and worth a read.

Eastern fox squirrel
Squirrel relaxing in a tree in Michigan. Photo by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Brian Zingler.

8. Squirrels are acrobatic, intelligent, and adaptable.

If you’re not convinced, try to hang a bird feeder without these bandits giving you a challenge.

Acrobatic squirrel by William Stayton.
Acrobatic squirrel by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant William Stayton.

9. They get bulky to stay warm during the winter.

Putting on some extra weight is one strategy squirrels use to stay warm during the cold winter months.

Squirrel in the Snow
Extra bulk in the cold is one way squirrels stay warm. Photo by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Kelly Lyon.

10. Squirrels don’t dig up all of their buried nuts, which results in more trees!

They have accidentally contributed countless trees to our nation’s forests. If you ask me, that’s a pretty great reason to appreciate squirrels.

Squirrel in Oak Tree by Linda Black
Squirrels play a role in planting many oak trees. This one was photographed in an oak tree in Florida by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Linda Black.

Ways to Celebrate

If you’re looking for ways to celebrate squirrels, we have a list of ideas for you! A few highlights include:

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