- Red Squirrel
name = Red Squirrel
status = NT
status_system = iucn3.1
trend = unknown
status_ref = IUCN2006|assessors=Gippoliti|year=2002|id=20025|title=Sciurus vulgaris|downloaded=11 May 2006 Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is near threatened ]
image_width = 250px
phylum = Chordata
genus = "
subgenus = "Sciurus"
species = "S. vulgaris"
binomial = "Sciurus vulgaris"
binomial_authority = Linnaeus, 1758
range_map_width = 200px
range_map_caption = Red squirrel range
Great Britain, numbers have decreased drastically in recent years, in part due to the introduction of the Eastern Gray Squirrel("Sciurus carolinensis") from North America. ["Fight to save Red Squirrel impeded by lack of funds": article by Graham Tibbetts on page 17 of issue 47,381, " Daily Telegraph" (Friday 5th October 2007)]
The red squirrel has a typical head-and-body length of 19 to 23 cm (7.5 to 9 in), a tail length of 15 to 20 cm (5.9 to 7.9 in) and a mass of 250 to 340 g (8.8 to 12 oz). It is not sexually dimorphic, as males and females are the same size. The red squirrel is slightly smaller than the eastern grey squirrel which has a head-and-body length of 25 to 30 cm (0.8 to 1 foot) and weighs between 400 and 800 g (14 oz to 1.8 lb). It is thought that the long tail helps the squirrel to balance and steer when jumping from tree to tree and running along branches and may keep the animal warm during sleep.
The coat of the red squirrel varies in colour with time of year and location. There are several different coat colour morphs ranging from black to red. Red coats are most common in
Great Britain; in other parts of Europe and Asia different coat colours co-exist within populations, much like hair colour in some human populations. The underside of the squirrel is always white-cream in colour. The red squirrel sheds its coat twice a year, switching from a thinner summer coat to a thicker, darker winter coat with noticeably larger ear-tufts (a prominent distinguishing feature of this species) between August and November. A lighter, redder overall coat colour, along with the larger ear-tufts (in adults) and much smaller size, distinguish the Eurasian red squirrel from the American eastern grey squirrel.
The red squirrel, like most tree squirrels, has sharp, curved
claws to enable it to climb and descend broad tree trunks, thin branches and even house walls. Its strong hind legs enable it to leap gaps between trees.The red squirrel also has the ability to swim.
Reproduction and mortality
Mating can occur in late winter during February and March and in summer between June and July. Up to two litters a year per female are possible. Each litter usually contains three or four young although as many as six may be born.
Gestationis about 38 to 39 days. The young are looked after by the mother alone and are born helpless, blind and deaf and weigh between 10 and 15 g. Their body is covered by hair at 21 days, their eyes and ears open after three to four weeks, and they develop all their teeth by 42 days. Juvenile red squirrels can eat solids around 40 days following birth and from that point can leave the nest on their own to find food; however, they still suckle from their mother until weaningoccurs at 8 to 10 weeks.
During mating, males detect females that are in
œstrusby an odor that they produce, and although there is no courtship the male will chase the female for up to an hour prior to mating. Usually multiple males will chase a single female until the dominant male, usually the largest in the group, mates with the female. Males and females will mate multiple times with many partners. Females must reach a minimum body mass before they enter œstrus, and heavy females on average produce more young. If food is scarce breeding may be delayed. Typically a female will produce her first litter in her second year.
The lifespan of the red squirrel is on average 3 years, although individuals may reach 7 years of age, and 10 in captivity. Survival is positively related to availability of autumn–winter tree seeds; on average, 75–85% of juveniles disappear during their first winter, and mortality is approximately 50% for winters following the first.Gurnell, J. 1983, Squirrel numbers and the abundance of tree seeds. "Mammal Review". 13:133–148 ]
Ecology and behaviour
The red squirrel is native to
coniferous forestand is also found in temperate broadleaf woodlands. The squirrel makes a nest known as a dreyin a branch-fork of a coniferby laying down twigs to make a domed structure about 25 to 30 cm in diameter, then lining it with moss, leaves, grass and bark. Hollows and woodpeckers' nests are also used. The red squirrel is a solitary animal and is shy and reluctant to share food with others. However, outside the breeding seasonand particularly in winter, multiple red squirrels may share a drey to keep warm. Social organization is based on dominance hierarchies among and between sexes; although males are not necessarily dominant to females, the dominant animals tend to be larger and older than subordinate animals, and dominant males tend to have larger home ranges than subordinate males or females.Wauters, L., C. Swinnen, and A. A. Dhondt. 1992, Activity budget and foraging behaviour or red squirrels ("Sciurus vulgaris") in coniferous and deciduous habitats. "Journal of Zoology" 227:71–86 ]
The red squirrel eats mostly the
seeds of trees, neatly stripping conifer cones to get at the seeds within. Fungi, birds' eggs, berries and young shoots are also eaten. Often the bark of trees is removed to allow access to sap. Between 60% and 80% of its active period may be spent foraging and feeding.Wauters, L.A., and A.A. Dhondt. 1992, Spacing behaviour of red squirrels, Sciurus vulgaris: variation between habitats and the sexes. "Animal Behaviour" 43:297–311 ] Excess food is put into caches, either buried or in nooks or holes in trees, and eaten when food is scarce. Although the red squirrel remembers where it created caches at a better-than-chance level, its spatial memoryis substantially less accurate and durable than that of grey squirrelMacdonald, I. M. V. (1997). Field experiments on duration and precision of grey and red squirrel spatial memory. "Animal Behaviour" 54:879-891] ; it therefore will often have to search for them when in need, and many caches are never found again. No territories are maintained, and the feeding areas of individuals overlap considerably.
The active period for the red squirrel is in the morning and in the late afternoon and evening. It often rests in its nest in the middle of the day, avoiding the heat and the high visibility to birds of prey that are dangers during these hours. During the winter, this mid-day rest is often much more brief, or absent entirely, although harsh weather may cause the animal to stay in its nest for up to days at a time.
Arboreal predators include small mammals including the
pine marten, wild cats, and the stoat, which preys on nestlings; birds, including owls and raptors such as the goshawkand buzzards, may also take the red squirrel. The red fox, cats and dogs can prey upon the red squirrel when it is on the ground. Humans influence the population size and mortality of the red squirrel by destroying or altering habitats, by causing road casualties, and by controlling populations by hunting.
The red squirrel collects mushrooms and dries them in trees. [cite episode|title=The Rockies|series=Ray Mears' Extreme Survival] [cite web|title=Red Squirrel eating of all things, a Mushroom|url=http://www.fotothing.com/Snappa/photo/bcd648ce4f9bcb939680e28f4b906228/|accessdate=2007-07-14]
The red squirrel is protected in most of Europe, as it is listed in Appendix III of the Bern Convention; it is also listed as Near Threatened on the
IUCN Red List. In some areas it is abundant and is hunted for its fur. Although not thought to be under any threat worldwide, the red squirrel has drastically reduced in number in the United Kingdom. Fewer than 140,000 individuals are thought to be left [ [http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/Redsquirrel Forestry Commission - Red Squirrels ] ] , approximately 85% of which are in Scotland. This population decrease is often ascribed to the introduction of the eastern grey squirrel from North America, but the loss and fragmentation of its native woodland habitat has also played a major role.
In order to conserve the remaining numbers of the red squirrel, the UK government in January 2006 announced a mass culling programme for the eastern grey squirrel. This was welcomed by many conservation groups. An earlier cull of the eastern grey squirrel began in 1998 on the North Wales island of Anglesey. This facilitated the natural recovery of the remaining red squirrel populations and has been followed by the successful reintroduction of the red squirrel into
Newborough Forest. [ [http://www.redsquirrels.info Red squirrel conservation, squirrel ecology and grey squirrel management ] ] The UK has established a local programme known as the "North East Scotland Biodiversity Partnership", an element of the national Biodiversity Action Plan. This programme is administered by the GrampianSquirrel Society, with an aim of protecting the red squirrel; the programme centres on the Banchoryand Cults areas.
There are also several local conservation groups in the UK, for example, the Red Squirrel Conservation group in
Mallerstang, Cumbria, and the National Trust reserve in Formby.
Outside the UK and Ireland, the threat from the eastern grey squirrel comes from a population in
Piedmont, Italy, where two pairs escaped from captivity in 1948. A significant drop in red squirrel populations in the area has been observed since 1970, and it is feared that the eastern grey squirrel may expand into the rest of Europe.
The eastern grey squirrel population appears to be able to out-compete the red squirrel for various reasons:
*The eastern grey squirrel can easily digest
acorns, while the red squirrel cannot.
*The eastern grey squirrel carries a disease, the
squirrel parapoxvirus, that does not appear to affect their health but will often kill the red squirrel. It was revealed in 2008 that the numbers of red squirrels at Formbyhave recently declined by 80% as a result of this disease. [Country File, BBC, 28.89.2008]
*When the red squirrel is put under pressure, it will not breed as often.
It is worth noting that the eastern grey squirrel and the red squirrel are not directly antagonistic towards each other, and direct violent conflict between these species is not a factor in the decline in red squirrel populations.
Research undertaken in 2007 in the UK credits the
Pine Martenwith reducing the population of the invasive eastern grey squirrel in the UK. Where the range of the expanding Pine Marten population meets that of the eastern grey squirrel, the population of these squirrels retreats. It is theorised that because the grey squirrel spends more time on the ground than the red, that they are far more likely to come in contact with this predator. [ Watson, Jeremy ( 30 December 2007) "Tufty's saviour to the rescue". "Scotland on Sunday". Edinburgh.]
Cultural and economic significance
Norse mythology, Ratatoskis a red squirrel who runs up and down with messages in the world tree, Yggdrasill, and spreads gossip. In particular, he ferried insults between the eagle Veðrfölnirat the top of Yggdrasill and the dragon Níðhöggrbeneath its roots.
The red squirrel used to be widely hunted for its pelt. In
Finlandsquirrel pelts were used as currency in ancient times, before the introduction of coinage.Fact|date=February 2008 The expression "squirrel pelt" is still widely understood there to be a reference to money.
On the island of Anglesey, red squirrel conservation forms part of a broader socio-economic project managed by
Menter Mon. An island-wide cull of grey squirrels has entered the final stage, and the red squirrel is now being reintroduced across the full spectrum of habitats within which it was once found. Some of the released animals can be watched via a live-feed webcam. [http://www.redsquirrels.info/squirrelcam.html Red squirrel webcam]
Taxonomy and distribution
There have been over 40 described
subspeciesof the red squirrel, but the taxonomic status of some of these is uncertain. A study published in 1971 recognises 16 subspecies and has served as a basis for subsequent taxonomic work.Sidorowicz, J. 1971, Problems of subspecific taxonomy of squirrel ("Sciurus vulgaris" L.) in Palaearctic: "Zoologischer Anzeiger". 187:123–142.] Lurz, P.W.W. et al. 2005. "Sciurus vulgaris". "Mammalian Species" 769:1–10 ]
*"S. v. altaicus" Serebrennikov, 1928
*"S. v. anadyrensis" Ognev, 1929
*"S. v. argenteus" Kerr, 1792
*"S. v. balcanicus" Heinrich, 1936
*"S. v. bashkiricus" Ognev, 1935
*"S. v. fuscoater" Altum, 1876
*"S. v. fusconigricans" Dvigubsky, 1804
*"S. v. infuscatus" Cabrera, 1905
*"S. v. italicus" Bonaparte, 1838
*"S. v. jacutensis" Ognev, 1929
*"S. v. jenissejensis" Ognev, 1935
*"S. v. leucourus" Kerr, 1792
*"S. v. mantchuricus" Thomas, 1909
*"S. v. meridionalis" Lucifero, 1907
*"S. v. rupestris" Thomas, 1907
*"S. v. vulgaris" Linnaeus, 1758
* [http://www.arkive.org/species/ARK/mammals/Sciurus_vulgaris/ ARKive] Photographs.Videos.
* [http://www.wildlifeonline.me.uk/squirrels.html WildlifeOnline - Natural History of Tree Squirrels] .
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