Education

Appreciating Squirrels

Article by Kat O’Lone

Miss Bonnie McSquirrely comes from a state known for its love of squirrels. Not only the Eastern Gray Squirrel is North Carolina’s official State Mammal, but the biggest squirrel “holiday” celebrated on January 21 also originated in Miss Bonnie’s home state. Yes, it’s SAD… Squirrel Appreciation Day!

Taking place in the dead of winter, when food for squirrels can be scarce, Squirrel Appreciation Day acknowledges the role of squirrels in nature and encourages people to put out nuts, seeds, or fruits for them. It was created in 2001 by Christy Hargrove, now Christy McKeown, who at the time was a freshman at UNC-Asheville, a wildlife rehabilitator affiliated with the Western North Carolina Nature Center, and runner of the no longer existing “Squirrels R Us” website. Christy wrote that people could simply “celebrate by putting out extra food for the squirrels.”

Tree squirrels do not hibernate and gather most of their food for the winter during the Fall. As winter drags on, they may find that the food they stored earlier is not enough. Severe weather and rapid habitat loss often disturb their food sources as well. Squirrel Appreciation Day reminds us about the vital role squirrels play in our natural environment and encourages people to appreciate and protect these animals during the time when they need it most. Squirrels can eat their own body weight every week, which is roughly 1.5 pounds for an average gray squirrel (little over half a kilogram)

Here’s a Quote from Krimsey Lilleth’s book “WALDEN-ISH” – a modern adaptation of the 1854 classic Walden, an experiment in simple living by Henry David Thoreau:

GTI founder Ösel Hita often reminds us about the importance of planting trees as they are crucial to our survival. Without oxygen, we cannot survive and trees, among many other things, produce oxygen for free!! If planting trees is one of the best gifts we can offer, then every day should be a squirrel appreciation day as squirrels are nature’s most prolific tree planters. They play a crucial role in sustaining the health of our environment, acting as vital seed dispersers. Scientists have estimated that squirrels forget 60-80% of seeds and nuts they bury, which leads to new plantings. With acorns and pinecones too large for birds or insects to disperse effectively, squirrels have become integral dispersal agents for these robust species. By transporting seeds to various locations around their habitats, squirrels are helping ensure that plants have greater opportunities for growth and expansion within the ecosystem, promoting its diversity and quality of life among all species involved.

Squirrel Appreciation Day is meant to celebrate all species of squirrels, and there are over 200 types of squirrel species worldwide, including everything from tree squirrels (which is what most of us think of when we think of squirrels) to ground squirrels, flying squirrels, marmots, and chipmunks. Miss Bonnie is the Eastern Gray Squirrel which is the most common squirrel found in North America. Here are a few other kinds of squirrels from different parts of the world observed by our GTI coordinators.

Miss Bonnie is a Eastern Gray Squirrel

 

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