Squirrels get lots of attention from humans, but not always much appreciation. We tend to dwell on the stolen birdseed or the occupied attics, but squirrels have a long, mostly harmless — and often entertaining — history of living in our midst.
That’s the focus of Squirrel Appreciation Day, founded in 2001 by North Carolina wildlife rehabilitator Christy McKeown. Squirrels are widespread and widely beloved, and despite their penchant for mischief, they generally avoid the severe scorn we hold for other semi-urban animals like rats, pigeons and opossums.
But even if you don’t love them— it’s worth taking time to appreciate them. So in honor of Squirrel Appreciation Day on Jan. 21, here are a few noteworthy squirrel facts:
- There are more than 200 squirrel species worldwide, from tree squirrels and flying squirrels to chipmunks and marmots. They’re all in the Sciuridae family, which is native to every continent except Australia and Antarctica.
- Squirrels range in size from the five-inch African pygmy squirrel to the three-foot Indian giant squirrel.
- These cute little guys have four front teeth that grow continuously, at a rate of about six inches per year. This helps their incisors endure the constant gnawing.
- Adult squirrels normally live alone, but they sometimes nest in groups during severe cold spells. A group of squirrels is called a “scurry” or “dray.”
- When squirrels hide food for winter, they often dig fake holes to fool would-be thieves. To make sure they don’t fool themselves, they lick their food before burying it, leaving a scent they can later detect even under snow.
- The average adult squirrel needs about a pound of food per week.
- A 2010 study found that some squirrels collect old rattlesnake skin, chew it up and then lick their fur, creating a kind of “rattlesnake perfume” that helps them hide from the smell-dependent predators.
- Squirrels communicate using complex systems of high-frequency chirps and tail movements. Studies have also found they’re capable of watching and learning from each other — especially if it relates to stealing food.