I started the year reading a nonfiction book—Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide, by Richard W. Thorington Jr. and Katie Ferrell. I bought the book shortly after I moved to the mountains, thinking I would learn all about these residents of my property. I ended up consulting the book a few times for some specific answers, but never read the book in its entirety until now.
Squirrels, I thought, were those fuzzy creatures that run up, down, and around tree trunks, with some colored gray and some jet black. It turns out that squirrels include marmots, woodchucks, chipmunks, ground squirrels, tree squirrels, and flying squirrels. Fur color, fur patterns, size, diet, sleeping habits, and so on vary greatly depending on the type of squirrel. The book provided far more information than I expected given my narrow focus on the tree squirrels on my property. But that’s what I enjoyed about the book—its broad, global perspective.
The book seemed quite thorough in its coverage of behavior, ecology, reproduction, foods, and interactions with humans. It even had a chapter on squirrels in stories and literature, with several quotations from such authors as William Butler Keats and John Yeats. Most of the book was interesting to me, although I admit that discussion on classifications and the use of Latin names brought on my yawn reflex. It was quite apparent that squirrels have not been studied much, especially flying squirrels. Flying squirrels are nocturnal, which poses a challenge in observing them. However today’s low light cameras might open up that field. (The book was written in 2006.) Unlike some mammals, squirrels don’t do well in captivity. Their behavior must be observed in the wild. They move rapidly and researchers have not found reliable ways to track individuals as they would by collaring a larger mammal (e.g., a mountain lion).
I did get a better understanding of “my” squirrels by reading the book. One interesting fact I learned is that black squirrels are a melanistic form of the Eastern gray squirrel. Some years I see more black squirrels than others. This year, there are quite a few. Some people think the black fur is an adaptation related to areas where there are wildfires. Given all the wildfires within miles of my property this year, some of the black squirrels might have migrated up the mountain to seek new habitat in my forest.
I recommend the book to anyone who wants a comprehensive understanding of the 278 species of squirrels on the planet.