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Squirrels — either love them or hate them

November 19, 2012
By Ellayne Conyers , Marshall Independent

There really is no in-between when it comes to squirrels. Yes they are cute - with their tiny paws, large eyes and especially their bushy tail. They are fun to watch running up a tree and jumping from branch to branch. But let's remember, they belong to the rodent family along with rats, mice, chipmunks, groundhogs and prairie dogs.

When I was growing up on a farm, one of my chores included setting traps every night for mice - and then emptying the traps in the morning. In other words, it did not bother me one bit to be responsible for ridding our house of these rodents. Sometimes squirrels do enter houses and usually reside in an attic - and are just about impossible to get rid of.

What I want to know is - how can I keep the squirrels from destroying my flowerbeds? I have tried everything, such as putting rocks over the holes that they dig, spraying the flower beds with anti-squirrel spray and literally chasing them away as I clap my hands vigorously in order to scare them. But nothing works. With their digging they have destroyed numerous plants this summer, which I have had to replace by buying new - and further more, they do not help pay for the new plants. The spray has not worked at all. When I chase them they have become very defiant by standing their ground until I come very close.

The worst experience that I had with the squirrels was about four years ago. I have a raised and fenced flowerbed on two sides of our property, where I have planted many perennial plants - it is so great to see the flowers come up each spring. I love tulips, so four years ago I ordered about three dozen tulips from Holland - no country has better tulips than Holland. So that fall I planted the bulbs along the edge of the fence garden. When spring came - the tulips did not. Finally I dug down where I had planted them - every one of the bulbs was gone. The squirrels had dug a tunnel, which led them to every last bulb - which I assume they ate.

I've asked neighbors if they have trouble with the squirrels - and "yes" everyone has a similar experience that I have had. One neighbor told me that in the fall she likes to set pumpkins and squash out on her front steps. Well, the squirrels dig into them and completely destroy them. Then she tried varnishing them in order to deter the squirrels, but that did not work either. We also agreed that the squirrels have become more dominant and have increased in numbers in the last few years.

Well, I wondered, what is the purpose of squirrels in the spectrum of nature? My research found that "squirrels are the only one of their species which are active mostly during the day. They are predominantly herbivores preferring seeds, roots, stems, bark, fruits, nuts and flower bulbs. Very rarely, they will eat insects. Red squirrels will store food where they live, while grays will hide food in many places. They usually store far more than they actually need and it is true that they often forget where they stashed it! That forgetfulness is actually beneficial because it aids in restoration of plants when the forgotten seeds take root and grow in a new location." I found also that squirrels help reforest the forest areas in the world by planting those seeds.

Squirrels have enemies other than human. Hawks and snakes will attack young squirrels in the nest and by far the worst enemy of squirrels is the house cat. And then there is me - I view them as a pest.

The bushy tails of squirrels help them keep their balance when climbing and jumping - and when the squirrel becomes distressed, he will flick his tail back and forth and chatter loudly to warn his squirrel friends. Being members of the rodent family, squirrels have rootless teeth, which never stop growing. Because of this, the squirrel must continuously gnaw to wear his teeth down. If he does not gnaw, his teeth will grow so long that he cannot eat.

Squirrels build nests in trees, in hollow trunks or forks between thick branches, using moss, twigs and dry leaves. Squirrels do not hibernate, so they spend long periods of time in their nests during the winter. They always have food near at hand - that is if they can remember where they buried it.

Squirrels have two litters per year, beginning their mating in January. Gestation is about 44 days and litters from two to five are common. The mothers maintain several nesting sites and are good caretakers of their young. If a young squirrel falls from a nest, even if its the tree that has been removed, she will move the baby to an alternate nest.

I have to admit that it is interesting watch these creatures jumping, hopping and somersaulting across the yard. Recently, one of these rodents had severely attacked a low hanging planter with flowers - having mostly dug out all of the plant - and I just left it alone because it was so far gone. Then one day I saw this squirrel curled up in the round pot, on his back (head to tip of tail) with paws held together below his chin - napping. It was so cute that I had to take a picture.



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