The squirrel family consists of ground squirrels, tree squirrels, marmots, flying squirrels, chipmunks, and prairie dogs. The animals are native to most continents but were introduced in Australia by humans. Squirrels can range in size, from small species that are between 2.8 and 3.9 inches in length and weigh about 0.35 ounces, to large species that have a length of 3 feet and weigh up to 18 pounds. They have slender bodies covered in soft silky fur, bushy tails, and large eyes. Squirrels can survive in almost any habitat but tend to avoid extremely dry areas and the polar regions. They are predominantly herbivores, but some feed on insects and small vertebrates. Although rarely seen during the winter, squirrels do not hibernate.
Where Do Squirrels Live?
There is a common misconception that squirrels only live in trees. However, their habitats include burrows and buildings, including homes. Most squirrels are den builders and build their dens, referred to as dreys, using twigs and branches. Dreys are usually built on forks or tree hollows, or even in barns, if available. Ground squirrels live in burrows, which are underground tunnel systems that include leaves and moss for comfort and warmth while flying squirrels live in tree nests or holes that have been modified using branches and twigs. During the winter, dreys or dens are used for sleeping and raising young squirrels.
Do Squirrels Hibernate?
Squirrels avoid the extreme cold and spend most of the winter sleeping in dens. However, this behavior is not true hibernation, because they do not experience a significant state of inactivity and metabolic depression, which is explained by the fact that squirrels are not able to retain enough body fat required for hibernation. When the weather improves, squirrels will venture out to retrieve food they hid during the warmer months. It is estimated that squirrels can collect and hide up to three years worth of food during summer and fall.
How Do Squirrels Survive During Winter?
During winter months, squirrels spend less time foraging and retreat to their dens in groups to keep each other warm. While in the den, they spend most of their time sleeping. The communal sleeping pattern of squirrels, which is common among baby squirrels, is often carried into adulthood and practiced during cold seasons. Although squirrels are territorial, they become friendly and accommodating during winter weather. Even during the cold season, some squirrels can be seen foraging and active in the early morning and late evening, and then retreat to their den during the day. Some squirrels also prepare for winter by bulking, which means they spend the fall months consuming significant amounts of food in order to increase their body mass. These food reserves help squirrels survive the winter season when food is scarce.