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Squirrels and Relatives: Sciuridae

Gray Squirrel (sciurus Carolinensis): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: Gray squirrels have a head and body length of 9.4 to 11.2 inches (24 to 29 centimeters). Fur color varies widely within the species, generally fur is black to pale gray with a white to pale gray belly. They have broad, bushy tails that are about the length of their head and body combined.

Geographic range: Gray squirrels are found in eastern and central United States, reaching southern Canada in the north. They have also been introduced into Texas, California, Quebec, Vancouver Island, and South Africa.

Habitat: Gray squirrels prefer forests and woodlands but they are often seen in urban parks and yards.

Diet: Gray squirrels eat primarily tree seeds and nuts, including acorns, hickory nuts, beechnuts, and butternuts. They also feed on berries, mushrooms, buds, and flowers.

The eastern gray squirrel, despite its name, can be colored gray or black. (© M. H. Sharp/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

Behavior and reproduction: Gray squirrels climb and jump well. They are considered solitary. They have well-developed senses of sight, smell, and hearing and are alert, especially on the ground. They are active year round, sheltering in tree hollows during the winter months. In the fall, gray squirrels gather and bury, at random, a winter food supply. When food is needed, these squirrels sniff the ground to recover their supply.

Gray squirrels have two breeding peaks during the year, generally December to February and May to June. After a forty-four–day gestation period, females give birth to a litter of two to seven young. Offspring are blind and helpless at birth, becoming somewhat independent at eight to ten weeks old.

Gray squirrels and people: These squirrels are hunted for sport and food. They are considered attractive and enjoyable for many park visitors. For homeowners, these squirrels may enter their homes for shelter, dig up their gardens, or eat the seeds in their bird-feeders. They are also considered a pest in areas where they damage the trees by stripping them of bark.

Conservation status: Gray squirrels are not considered threatened by the IUCN. ∎



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Web sites:

Jansa, S., and P. Myers. "Family Sciuridae." Animal Diversity Web. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Sciuridae.html (accessed on June 2, 2004).

"The Life of Mammals." BBC: Science and Nature: Animals. http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/animals/mammals (accessed on June 2, 2004).

"Mammal Guide." Animal Planet. http://animal.discovery.com/guides/mammals/habitat/alpine/alpmarmot.html (accessed on June 1, 2004).

"Mammals." Canadian Museum of Nature. http://nature.ca/notebooks/english/mon2.htm (accessed on June 2, 2004).

"Sciuridae." Discover Life. http://www.discoverlife.org/nh/tx/Vertebrata/Mammalia/Sciuridae/ (accessed on June 2, 2004).

The Squirrel Place. http://www.squirrels.org/ (accessed on June 2, 2004).

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceMammalsSquirrels and Relatives: Sciuridae - Physical Characteristics, Habitat, Behavior And Reproduction, Squirrels And People, Southern Flying Squirrel (glaucomys Volans): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, DIET, CONSERVATION STATUS