Florida’s Squirrels

FLORIDA’S SQUIRRELS

*During the early 2000’s, Linda Adams, a former resident of TGO, wrote a series of articles for the TGO Nature Center titled “a Page From Nature”.  This article was a part of that series and was published in January 2002. The original article did not include photographs so I added some photos provided by Hobie Kurtz (Thanks Hobie!).   Enjoy!

 

TGO Nature Center, Nature, Mammal, Rodent, Eastern Gray Squirrel, Education

Eastern Gray Squirrel
Photo Courtesy of Hobie Kurtz

 

Of the 94 species of wild mammals that are native to Florida, none are more frequently encountered than squirrels. Squirrels belong to the most successful and widespread order in the world, rodents. One of the main differences between squirrels and most other rodents is that squirrels have a rather large, bushy tail.

All rodents are gnawing animals. Squirrels have well-developed jaw muscles and chisel-like front teeth that can chew through just about anything. These front teeth are kept sharp by gnawing on hard objects such as woody plant materials, seeds and nuts. This gnawing also serves another purpose. A rodent’s front teeth grow constantly, so they must be filed down or they will grow to the point where they inhibit eating and the animal will starve.

Here in Florida, squirrels usually produce 2 litters of 2-4 young each year. The first litter is born in January or February while the second arrives in mid-summer. Young squirrels mature rather slowly for a rodent and are on their own in about 2-1/2 months. Most of Florida’s squirrel species give birth in nests normally located in trees. This nest also is the center of the adult’s activities throughout the year.

Most squirrels are active during the daytime. This characteristic makes their activities quite noticeable to us. They rely on their keen senses to detect danger when it is still some distance away and then they make a quick escape.

Squirrels basically are vegetarians. They eat a wide variety of plants, but they mostly use fruits and nuts. In the fall, they are especially attracted to oaks, hickories and pecans. But for all their love of fruits and nuts, tree squirrels also will eat the eggs and young of nesting birds and certain types of insects.

Florida is home to 3 species of tree squirrels — the gray, fox and flying squirrel. Although they share many of the previous characteristics, each is unique in its own right.

Gray Squirrel — one of the most commonly seen mammals throughout Florida. These medium-sized squirrels weigh about 1 pound and are about 15 inches long, half of that being their tail. Their most common color is gray with rust-colored hairs scattered throughout their coat. Gray squirrels are most abundant in hardwood or mixed hardwood and pine forests. They are common in urban areas though, because they are not very fussy about their habitat needs. They do quite well in residential areas where only a few large trees are present.  Oaks are especially attractive to them and they can supplement this food by using bird feeders and gardens.

Florida’s fox squirrel population generally has not fared well. Although they still occur statewide, several races have declined drastically. The State of Florida currently lists the Sherman’s fox squirrel as a species of special concern. The Big Cypress fox squirrel is even more rare and is listed as threatened.

Fox squirrels are much larger than the gray. Adults may weight more than 2 pounds and reach a total length of 26 inches. Also distinctive is their color. Fox squirrels normally are reddish tan to buff gray with a black head and white ears and nose. Body color can vary from black to gray-white but the color pattern on the head almost always is the same. Fox squirrels are selective in their habitat needs. With few exceptions they are only found in pine forests dominated by longleaf or south Florida slash pine.

The southern flying squirrel is unique in many respects. It is a small animal, weighing only about 2 ounces and measuring just 9 inches long including a 3 to 4 inch tail. Their fur is quite dense and soft, the upper body color being light brown and the belly white. What makes them truly unique is their ability to glide (they do not fly) for distances as much as 150 feet. They climb high in a tree and leaping with all legs outspread thus stretching the skin membrane along their sides and allowing them to glide to another tree.

Information Source: UFL Education Department

Column Prepared by Linda Adams

TGO Nature Center, Nature, Mammal, Rodent, Eastern Gray Squirrel, Education

Eastern Gray Squirrel
Photo Courtesy of Hobie Kurtz

 

You will see the Eastern Gray Squirrel throughout TGO.

 

TGO Nature Center, Nature, Mammal, Rodent, Eastern Gray Squirrel, Education

Eastern Gray Squirrel
Photo Courtesy of Hobie Kurtz

 

The squirrel’s tail is very long and bushy as seen in the above photo.

 

TGO Nature Center, Nature, Mammal, Rodent, Eastern Gray Squirrel, Education

Eastern Gray Squirrel
Photo Courtesy of Hobie Kurtz

 

Ahhh,  life is good at TGO!

 

TGO Nature Center – “Living in Harmony with Nature

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