Sunday, July 29, 2012

Humiliate Squirrels? I Don't Think So!

Online novelty merchant Archie McPhee is now offering the Big Head Squirrel Feeder, a dubious product that they promise will allow you to "feed and humiliate squirrels at the same time. The feeder is basically a large hollow vinyl cartoonish squirrel head with space for food on the inside. The idea is to suspend the feeder at the prescribed height so that a squirrel will have to stand up to reach the food, creating the illusion that the squirrel has a ridiculously large head.

McPhee advises users to keep a camera handy because "you'll want to post a picture on Facebook," and promises that the product is ideal for anyone "who thinks squirrels should be taken down a peg or two."

Of course, the real joke is on anyone who spends fifteen bucks (plus shipping) on this idiotic product. I'm sure Archie McPhee knows that the squirrels will be getting the last laugh. After all, they get a free meal our of it, plus a chance to make fun of those oh-so-clever and easily-entertained humans snapping their pictures and uploading them to the internet.

I'm not so sure that this feeder wasn't actually designed by squirrels!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Chicago Squirrels Scarce During Hot Summer

According to the Chicago Sun Times, squirrel sightings have become increasingly rare this summer, even in areas where the rodents are usually plentiful. One puzzled Chicago resident is quoted asking "where did all the squirrels go? It's so weird."

The reason for the absence of squirrels, the article says, is the relatively mild winter followed by this summer's unusual heat and lack of rain. While more squirrels than usual survived the winter, the resulting overpopulation combined with the drought and extreme heat have probably resulted in a large-scale die-off, especially among the spring litters.

An urban ecologist quoted by the paper, Steve Sullivan, states that this combination of factors could affect the next three generations of squirrels in the windy city.

Can someone bring me a glass of water?

Of course, that estimate is probably assuming that conditions return to normal next year. Unfortunately, the Sun Times completely ignores the larger issue of global climate change. Local and regional fluctuations in numbers of squirrels and other wildlife are likely to become more frequent, and more lasting, as temperatures continue to rise and rainfall becomes more scarce in coming years. And of course it's not just wildlife that will be affected by global warming.

It's little stories like this, that are so easy to overlook, that should be getting much more attention for what they tell us about the bigger picture of long-term global climate change.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Culling Of Gray Squirrels Is Wrong

This story from the Westmorland Gazette brings upsetting news that a cull of gray squirrels has begun in earnest in an area of northern England called the Yorkshire Dales. At the time that the article was published, on July 19, already thirty gray squirrels had been cruelly slaughtered, with many more to come.

The cull kill (let's call it what it really is) is being carried out by a group called Red Squirrels Northern England, whose stated intent is to "increase numbers of red squirrels in the region." They hope to encourage red squirrels currently living in an adjacent area to move into the area where the massacre is taking place.

The group's project manager, Nick Mason, cynically states the intent to use traps to snare and "humanely" kill the gray squirrels. By "humanely kill" he of course means placing a cloth bag over one end of the trap holding a terrified squirrel, opening the trap door so that the squirrel runs into the bag desperately trying to escape, and  then bludgeoning the squirrel to death.

As I have made clear just a few days ago, I think it would be great to see red squirrels make a comeback in areas of England where appropriate habitat exists or can be restored. Culling of gray squirrels is not a way to make this happen.

Besides being horribly cruel, culling simply will not, in the long run, restore numbers of red squirrels. As soon as the cull ends, gray squirrel populations will rebound at least to previous numbers, or possibly even greater due to the increase in food resources resulting from the absence of gray squirrels during the cull period.

The only way to restore red squirrel numbers is by providing and protecting their habitat. This means coniferous forests, which is the only optimum habitat for a strong, thriving red squirrel population. The cause of the red squirrel decline in the UK is not the gray squirrel. It is the destruction of pine forests and the planting by "conservationists" of broadleaf and mixed forests, which are far more favorable to gray squirrels. Those areas in the north of England and Scotland where red squirrels still thrive are not surprisingly coniferous forest lands.

Waging war against gray squirrels to help red squirrels is like a doctor putting a bandaid over the site of a cancerous tumor just to avoid doing the hard work of performing surgery to remove the tumor. In the case of the red squirrel in the UK, the tumor is habitat destruction. Killing grays is, for so-called "conservationists," an easy way to convince themselves that they are doing some good. It is much cheaper, more convenient, and therefore more politically viable than addressing the real problem of habitat destruction. It also has the advantage of identifying an "enemy" that can be seen, trapped, and bludgeoned to death, without compromising anyone's lifestyle or business interests as carrying out habitat restoration and protection might.

The problem is that the gray squirrel is not the real enemy. Grays were brought to England through no choice of their own. They have thrived in broadleaf and mixed forests, urban and suburban parks and yards, areas that are much better suited to their species than to red squirrels.

Grays have been blamed for carrying squirrel pox virus and infecting red squirrels with the disease, but the truth is that epidemics of this disease occurred among red squirrel populations before grays were present. Reds would be much more likely to develop immunity to squirrel pox virus in pine forests where they can be strong and healthy, just the type of habitat that has undergone the greatest amount of destruction.

I realize that as I am an American and not a resident of the UK, my opinion on this issue may not be taken seriously. But I think that cruelty and pointless killing of a species is an issue that affects us all, that overrides borders and nationalities. If I believed that culling of gray squirrels would have the slightest long-term benefit to red squirrels, then I might not be quite as upset when I see stories like the one that I linked above. But it won't have a benefit. The killing will go on for a while, there might be a temporary increase in red squirrels in the area, but sooner or later the money will run out, the killers will lose interest or political backing for their efforts, the grays will move back in, and everything will be just as it was before.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Bant Singh and the Persistent Squirrel

Bant Singh is one of those heroes who we never hear much about in the west. A member of the lower "untouchable" caste in the Punjab region of India, he is a protest singer and tireless campaigner for the rights of poor agricultural laborers who are abused and exploited by wealthy landowners. In 2000, he dared to pursue the prosecution of a group of powerful upper-caste men who had raped his daughter. In 2006 he was assaulted by a group of men while walking home from a protest meeting, beaten with rods and axes, and left for dead. Even after he was found, barely alive, and taken to a local hospital, treatment was delayed by corrupt hospital staff, and he lost both of his arms and one leg due to gangrene. Despite his horrific injuries, Bant Singh continues to sing protest songs and to campaign for the rights of Indian agricultural laborers.

Bant Singh

So what does this have to do with squirrels?
Recently, a reporter for the Hindustan Times visited Bant Singh at his home in the village of Jhabhar. As they were sitting in the courtyard of the home, Singh pointed out to the reporter a squirrel trying to carry a red piece of cloth into the upper branches of a tree. Singh, who is a leading member of a leftist political party, revealed that the red cloth was a party flag. "I have been watching this squirrel for a couple of months," he said. "It got hold of the flag that was lying here and it has been trying since then to take it up the tree. Since the flag is heavy, it falls down but the squirrel does not lose heart. It takes the flag once again and starts taking it up."

The connection is obvious. Bant Singh and that little squirrel are both doggedly pursuing seemingly impossible goals: To bring justice to lower-caste Indian workers; to carry a heavy flag up to a treetop nest. Neither will give up, and I hope both are rewarded with success.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Squirrel Facts: Prevost's Squirrel

Prevost's squirrel, also called the tri-colored squirrel, is a member of a genus called Callosciurus, which are also known as the "beautiful squirrels." Although I think this name could be applied to all squirrels, it is easy to see how Prevost's squirrel earns this description. It is possibly the most strikingly colored mammals in the world, with a jet-black back and tail, white hind legs and flanks, and reddish-orange underparts.

Prevost's squirrels are native to southeast Asia, specifically Thailand, Malaysia, Borneo, Sumatra, and nearby smaller islands. They inhabit mostly the canopy of lowland forests, and also venture into gardens and other cultivated areas. They are relatively large tree squirrels, with the body about 11 inches long and the tail about 8-9 inches, and weighing about two pounds. They are diurnal and for the most part solitary except when the female is raising young.

The diet is varied and omnivorous. Prevost's squirrels eat nuts, fruits, seeds, buds, flowers, insects including ants and terminates, beetle larvae, small reptiles, and sometimes birds' eggs. They carry fruit far from the tree in which it was found before eating it and dropping the seeds, which helps to encourage the growth of a new generation of fruit trees in the forest.

Because they live in an environment where there is no real winter season, breeding for the Prevost's squirrel can occur throughout the year, and a female may have up to three litters in a year. The litter usually consists of 1-4 babies, which are able to leave the nest by about 6 weeks old.

When alarmed or excited, the Prevost's squirrel can produce a trill and a piercing whistle to warn other squirrels in the area of any danger. Like other tree squirrels, it also uses its tail like a flag to communicate. It is extremely agile when moving about in the tree canopies, and jumps exceptionally long distances.

The people of Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia are lucky to have such a beautiful, strikingly colored squirrel where they live!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Good News For Red Squirrels In England

The website is reporting a strong increase in the population of Eurasian red squirrels in a wildlife conservation area near the city of Liverpool in northern England. According to the report, just a few years ago an epidemic of squirrel pox virus had reduced the population at the preserve at Sefton on Merseyside from 1500 to only 150 in 2008. Now, the most recent census of the red squirrels has found the population in the area at around 1000, and the article notes that additional "small but viable" populations have been established in other nearby areas.

It would be nice if this could
be a common sight in the UK

The article did not suggest any theories about why the population has rebounded so strongly. However, it did mention that the area is one of pine forests, which is the most favorable habitat for the red squirrels. It is likely that the survivors of the epidemic have passed on some resistance to the virus to their offspring, which would help ensure greater survival rates in the event of a future outbreak of the disease.

By far the most important thing that humans can do to help this population of red squirrels continue to grow is to protect the remaining pine forest habitat, and hopefully set aside areas where additional pine forest can grow. The article made no mention of culling of grey squirrels in the area, and I hope that this loathsome and cruel practice has not been carried out there. Grey squirrel culling will not bring about sustainable recovery of the red squirrel population. This can only be accomplished through habitat protection focusing on pine forests in the norther parts of England and in Scotland.

With your help we can both survive!
For more information on why the culling of grey squirrels is a mistake, please visit Professor Acorn's website or the website of SOG Save Our Greys.

Friday, July 13, 2012

And Now, A Short Message From Our Sponsor...

Directory of Squirrel Species Profiles

During the months that I have been writing this blog I have posted profiles of several of the species of squirrels found throughout the world. As I plan to keep adding more of these, I thought it would be a good idea to post a directory listing the species profiles, which you can find a link to at the top of this page--just click on "Squirrel Species Profiles."

For now I've listed the species profiles in the order in which the articles were posted, starting with the most recent (least chipmunk). Eventually I hope to create a Squirrel Nation web site that will have more squirrel profiles, photos, videos, and information.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Squirrel Facts: The Least Chipmunk

Least but not last, the least chipmunk is the smallest chipmunk species in North America, but it is also the most widespread. It lives throughout the north-central and western United States, and in Canada from British Columbia and southern Yukon to western Quebec. It is found in numerous habitats that include deciduous and coniferous forests and sagebrush plains. As you can see here, it is also among the cutest of the squirrel species.

The least chipmunk is unmistakable in its appearance. It has three dark lines with white in between along each side of its face, and five dark stripes with white in between running the length of its back. The forehead is gray, the sides are reddish brown, and the belly grayish white. Its most noticeable feature is its size. Averaging less than eight inches in length, this tiny ground squirrel weighs less than two ounces as an adult.

The diet is omnivorous. Least chipmunks feed mostly on berries, seeds, nuts, and insects. They have cheek pouches that they use to carry food to the nest. They nest in underground burrows, where they store food for the winter. Like other chipmunks, this species does not truly hibernate, but will become inactive and rarely venture outside during cold weather months. Breeding takes place in early spring, and the litter averages five or six young.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Longview, WA Loves Squirrels!

Back in 1963, Amos Peters and his coworkers were upset. Squirrels crossing the street to eat at the feeders that they had put up outside their Longview, WA office were getting hit and killed by cars. So one day, after seeing a squirrel killed in the road with an acorn in its mouth, Amos began designing a special bridge for the squirrels. At his own expense, he hired an engineering firm to carry out his plan, and the Nutty Narrows Bridge was built.

Since the opening of the original Nutty Narrows in 1963, the bridge has been renovated, in 1983, and a few years ago was moved to a new location. But it has continued to serve the squirrel population of Longview, saving the lives of an untold number of the bushy-tailed rodents.

After Peters' death in 1984, a ten-foot tall statue of a squirrel was erected near the bridge in his honor.

Longview, Washington clearly loves and values its squirrels! So finally, in 2011, residents of the town celebrated the first of what will be an annual event, the Longview Squirrel Fest. This year's event is scheduled for August 25, and will feature music, craft and food vendors, bike races, kids' contests and a clown, and even an Elvis Presley impersonator. You can see details of Squirrel Fest 2012 at the official website or on the Facebook page.

This looks like such a good time--and all to honor squirrels!--that I wish we could make the trip from Texas just to attend. Maybe next year!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Incredible Flying Squirrel Photos

The UK's Daily Mail newspaper has placed some incredible photographs on its website today of a southern flying squirrel in action. The photos were taken by British photographer Kim Taylor. Here are a couple of samples:

There are several more photos at the article that I linked above, and at Kim Taylor's website.

The southern flying squirrel is native to much of the southeastern United States. Unlike tree squirrels, the flying squirrels are nocturnal. They spend most of the daylight hours tucked away asleep in their nests, which they usually make in a tree cavity. Since they typically emerge only at night, they are hard to see, and even harder to photograph, which makes these pictures all the more impressive.