Two weeks ago the UNE Squirrel Project had a first–we recaptured a squirrel that was wearing a non-functional collar. I cannot begin to tell you how excited I was when I realized the squirrel was wearing a collar. I wanted to kiss, or at least, hug it. The frequency tag was eaten off so I had to send it back to the manufacturer to find out the frequency. Turns out is it old 245, who was first collared 7/5/2011! Before that collar died, the squirrel was known for epoch movements across campus. Hopefully he is still a wanderer.
I was out recently checking traps and both a squirrel and a juvenile red-tailed hawk were waiting for me. This bird was incredibly curious, sitting on a stump watching the squirrel. The squirrel was quite vocal (grunting), certainly not pleased to both be in that trap and so close to such a predator. A squirrelologist told me that he saw that same hawk in that forest the day before. Let’s hope, now that it has a collar on, that it does not become lunch. That said, in the first week of wearing the collar, the squirrel has staying in that forest patch. Life must not be too dangerous there.
Yesterday, while out putting a radio-collar on a new female I noticed she had fleas. While I have seen fleas on bobcats in the winter, this is the first time I remember ever seeing them on grey squirrels in ANY season. December and January have been colder than average. The average low and high for Biddeford this December was 8.2 F and 29.2 F, respectively; the long-term average December low and high temps for Biddeford are 19 F and 37 F, respectively. The average low and high for Biddeford this January was 13.6 F and 31.7 F, respectively; the long-term average January low and high temps for Biddeford are 14 F and 34 F, respectively. Hardy fleas!
There has been a lot of talk lately in the squirrel lab about flying squirrels are. These discussions, perhaps by accident, perhaps not, have coincided with two southern flying squirrels taking up residence in my attic. After far too long, I trapped them out this week and translocated them. This gave me (and the students, and my kids!) a rare opportunity to look closely at one, alive (yes, my 4.5 year old daughter asked if we could keep it as a pet, and yes I was rather tempted). A few things struck me. First, they have smaller than expected feet. Given their gliding, and need to grab on to branches, I would have expected them to have bigger feet relative to their body size (as compared to grey squirrels). Second, their whiskers are insanely long! I swear the squirrel that I caught today had at least 2.5 inch whiskers. Third, their poop is far smaller than I would have expected (see picture)–only slightly, if at all, longer than deer mice.
Inspired by these catches, I have done a little extra natural history reading on them. Two particularly cool things to report. First, in the winter they can den with up to 20 other individuals. That’s right, 20! Anyone who has had to remove a squirrel from their house should be shivering right now…. oh my! I really hope there are not 18 more in my attic. Second, they have been observed foraging in nights with temperatures as low as -30F. These are tiny animals. They must be incredibly efficient foragers to be out in those conditions.