Encanto Pet Clinic veterinarians and staff want to kick off the New Year by celebrating National Squirrel Appreciation Day on January 21st! Watching squirrels is probably on your pet’s short list of favorite things to do, and we love them too. Although we rarely see squirrels as clients in our clinic, squirrels and all the wild creatures of Pima County are important to us.
You have probably seen “Up,” the delightful 2009 animated film, where speech-capable dog Doug is easily distracted by the mere possibility of seeing a squirrel.
The Arizona-Sonoran Desert is home to three types of squirrels – the rock squirrel, the round-tailed ground squirrel, and the Harris Antelope ground squirrel.
The rock squirrel is the biggest of the three – it can weigh in at more than a pound, and it has a reddish-brown coat with a bushy tail. It is an omnivore and feeds on seeds, mesquite beans, insects, birds, eggs, and sometimes rattlesnakes. It is believed that a rock squirrel, when encountering a rattlesnake, can pump extra blood into its tail, causing the heat-seeking snake to strike at the tail instead of the body of the squirrel.
You’ve seen the little round-tailed ground squirrel around Tucson, digging tunnel systems and feeding on grass seeds and cacti. It hibernates in the winter, and often sleeps for several weeks in the summer before the monsoons arrive.
The Harris Antelope ground squirrel looks like a chipmunk with a bushy tail and a white stripe that runs along the side of its body. It prefers higher elevations, and prefers a diet of mesquite beans and seeds; but it will eat insects and mice.
Our own Mount Graham Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus grahamensis) is one of the more elusive species of squirrels, and is found only in the Pinaleño (or Graham) Mountains of southeastern Arizona. Believed to be extinct by the 1950s, they were spotted in the 1970s and added to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species list in 1987. It is small (around 8 inches long), grayish brown with rusty-red, orange or yellow markings, with a 6-inch-long tail that does not have the white-fringes common to other species of red squirrels. It lives primarily on pinecones, seeds and fungi found in the mountains. During the winter, its ears are tufted with fur, and during the summer a black line can be seen along its back. The Mount Graham Red Squirrel does not hibernate, and loves to be out and busy in the warm sun.
The Mount Graham Red Squirrel (MGRS) research program monitors the red squirrel population, which hovers around 500 animals. The program is partially funded by the University of Arizona and is directed by Professor John Koprowski of U of A’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment.
As much as we hate having squirrels raid our bird feeders, we also love to watch them defeat our attempts to keep them out. Their ability to move past obstacles, survive in all conditions, loudly defend their place in the world, and prepare for the future while gleefully living in the present – well, that makes them a bit of a hero in our eyes. So here is a fun video that you can watch with your pets. And… SQUIRREL!