Squirrel Facts

19 Interesting Squirrel Facts

Squirrels are adorable because of their cute faces, furry tails, and outstanding flying feats. We also know them to be the most common culprit of shenanigans like stolen vegetables or a ruckus in the attic. But a closer look at these energetic animals reveals some intriguing squirrel facts essential for the curious animal lover.

The word ‘squirrel’ is derived from the Greek word ‘skiouros,’ which means “shade or shadow tail.3” The squirrel’s tail is its most conspicuous feature, but you probably didn’t know it was also the source of the animal’s name. 

Facts about squirrels

red squirrel
Photo by capri23auto from Pexels.

1. Squirrels exist almost everywhere in the world

Almost everyone has seen a squirrel, partly thanks to the animal’s rather intrusive way of creating a habitat for itself. Squirrels are quite adaptive; they live anywhere they can make a home, from tundra to tropical rainforest terrains. These fluffy-tailed mammals are found on every continent of the world, living almost anywhere there is vegetation. 

Australia is one of the few places without native squirrels, and it deliberately introduced the northern palm squirrel in 1898. The squirrels were released on the WA South Perth Zoo grounds and can still be found in Australia today, even outside zoo grounds, particularly in Perth. Other places without native squirrels are Antarctica2, Madagascar, Greenland, and the Sahara desert.

2. The squirrel family is over 200 species large

When you think of squirrels, what comes to mind? A furry rodent not much bigger than a teacup? It might surprise you to learn that not all adult squirrels are the same size or even look the same. There are about 268 squirrel species worldwide, which makes for a rather astonishing size variation.

The African pygmy squirrel is the smallest squirrel there is. It can measure at most 5 inches from nose to tail in adulthood. The largest squirrel is the Indian giant squirrel, which can grow up to 3 feet long. Some squirrel species, like the African pygmy squirrel, can weigh only 0.5 ounces. Like the Indian giant squirrel, others can be as heavy as 4 pounds.

Read more: Types of Squirrels and Subfamilies.

3. Their tails are almost as long as their bodies. 

Most squirrels have long, bushy tails almost the same as their body length, but a few other squirrels, like the Harris’ antelope squirrels, have smaller but fluffy tails. The tail of the ground squirrel is not as bushy as those of the other types. They have whiskers around their eyes, cheeks, noses, wrists, chins, and legs.

On their body specifications, squirrels have long and slender bodies. The ground squirrel is the most robust of the three types of squirrels. Flying and tree squirrels have a slimmer look. They have either fine, soft, or thick hair and rather large eyes.  Squirrel fur ranges from black, white, tan, brown, olive, and gray. Some species have long stripes on their backs.

Their forefeet has four toes, while the muscular hind legs have five toes. The toes of the forefeet have extremely sharp claws, which provide a strong grip for climbing and help with digging.

4. Squirrels dig the solitary lifestyle

Squirrels usually live solitary lives, which is most common with tree squirrels. They form loose groups or pair up to travel, secure resources, or keep warm. Flying squirrels are nocturnal and form small loose groups to stay warm and care for their young ones.

Prairie dogs, a type of ground squirrel, live in large communities with hundreds of members. Ground squirrels are known for their highly social behavior in their communities. Their group living allows for play, vocalization, and communal grooming. Male ground squirrels help to care for the baby squirrels.

5. Squirrels are big on communication 

Squirrels communicate with vocalization and body language. Vocalization is common in mating season or periods of aggression. Squirrels will often use specific alarm calls to warn the group of dangers. The sound that signals an aerial predator is distinct from the one that warns of a terrestrial predator.

Tail position, body posture, or foot stomping is also a means of communication for squirrels. Sometimes, such as in mating season, the females communicate sexual readiness chemically through a release of pheromones.

How long do squirrels live?

how long do squirrels live
Photo by Hasse Lossius on Unsplash

6. Squirrels live between 8-16 years. 

The answer to “how long do squirrels live?” varies. Squirrels can live in the wild for 8-14 years, but many do not survive past the first year. They are protected from natural predators such as snakes, hawks, and owls when in captivity so they can live longer.

They live for 16 years or more in captivity. A flying squirrel will feed on breast milk for about 70 days, while ground squirrels breastfeed for an average of 38 days.

Baby squirrels depend entirely on their mother for about 26-42 days. Some species reach sexual maturity after 87 days; others are ready for breeding until they are about three years old.

Quiz: How many types of squirrels are there?

Answer: We have three categories of squirrels, classified according to their most prominent adaptive behavior. The squirrel types are ground squirrels, tree squirrels, and flying squirrels.

7. Tree squirrels are the most visible. 

Squirrels are notably busybodies, but tree squirrels are the showiest. They can be easily seen leaping from tree to tree in parks, woodlands, or yards with some trees.

Squirrel nests, primarily constructed from leaves, serve as the dwelling place for tree squirrels. These resourceful creatures can also adapt to urban environments by nesting in attics or chimneys. In particular, mother squirrels, being excellent climbers, often choose such high and secure locations to raise their young.

You can commonly find eastern gray squirrels (also sometimes spelled eastern grey squirrel) in urban and suburban areas of North America. Some members of the eastern gray squirrel family have white fur, but they are not albinos because of tiny tufts of gray found on the back of their heads and shoulders. The red squirrel is another beloved arboreal squirrel. People love it for its exquisite fur and often keep it as a pet.

According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, tree squirrels are the number one wildlife trouble markers in urban and suburban areas. You might see a tree squirrel stealing bird feed and destroying feeders to get to it.

Related read: Squirrel Proof Bird Feeders.

8. Ground squirrels hibernate.

This category of squirrels lives in tunnels or burrows, and some squirrel species hibernate during the winter. The arctic ground squirrel, native to the Arctic, can withstand freezing temperatures during hibernation by dropping its body temperature. The body temperature drops from 99 degrees F (37 degrees C) to 27 degrees F (-3 degrees C).

Ground squirrels have short, strong forelimbs that they use for digging. They may sometimes be melanistic, completely black. But usually have fur tones ranging from gray, brown, and buff. Gray squirrels are ground squirrels with grayish fur. 

9. Flying squirrels live like birds.

Like birds, flying squirrels make their homes in nests or tree holes. They do not have wings to really fly but glide effortlessly from tree to tree, thanks to a skin flap. These flaps of skin, called a patagium, connect their limbs to their bodies and provide a winglike structure, and they use their tail as a parachute.

Squirrels can glide far more than a distance of 150 feet but can be laughably clumsy on the ground. In the air, they are agile and perform impressive maneuvers like sharp turns. A flying squirrel has the longest limbs compared to other squirrels.

They also have big eyes that help them see better at night. In 2019, scientists discovered that some flying squirrels can glow at night.

Asia has the most flying squirrels1, but three species are native to America. A flying squirrel can be just a few inches in size or larger than a house cat. They do not hibernate but become less active when winter comes around.

Read more: Flying squirrel facts.

Interesting squirrel facts
Photo by Phil Bearce from Pexels

10. Squirrels have ever-growing front teeth.

The squirrel’s four front teeth never stop growing, and that's good for them because how else would they keep up with constant gnawing? The continual gnawing keeps the teeth short and sharp.

11. They eat meat, too.

Squirrels are primarily omnivores that eat plants and other smaller animals. Cartoons will often show squirrels gorging themselves on acorns, but a squirrel's meal preference is quite diversified. 

They like to feed on fungi, diverse kinds of nuts, seeds, berries, leaves, roots, tree bark, and flowers. Their animal food sources include insects, caterpillars, baby birds, and eggs. Some species are vegetarians, though.

Squirrels can eat their body weight in food within a week. They are clever creatures and can navigate numerous obstacles to get their food. 

12. They like salt.

Some squirrel species particularly enjoy sucking on tree sap because it provides sodium. They will often strip tree bark of the upper branches to gain access to salt-rich sap. Where no trees are available, like in attics, squirrels may turn to chemicals in electric wire insulation, mortar, or plywood glue.

Squirrel owners or people who don’t mind sharing their yards with squirrels can prevent the destructive search for salt by leaving salt blocks in easily accessible places.

13. Squirrels have an organized defense system.

While squirrels are predators themselves, they have to watch their backs for bigger predators who love to snack on them. Flight is one of the few natural defenses a squirrel has, but not all squirrels can fly. They typically have a fur coat color that matches their habitat and allows them to blend in to hide from predators. 

They also use their claws to defend themselves, and prairie dogs will launch an offensive attack on snakes living near their territory. To protect themselves better, squirrels team up to watch out for danger. They warn the group of imminent danger with whistling calls.

14. A squirrel litter can have many fathers

The mating season for squirrels happens at different times of the year based on the type of squirrel. A male squirrel can smell a female in heat from a mile away during the mating season. A female squirrel may mate with multiple males in one season, so her litter may have different fathers.

Female squirrels usually produce a litter of 2-8 offspring but can have several litters yearly. The pregnancy period is about 29-65 days, depending on the species. Smaller-sized squirrels have shorter gestation periods, while larger-sized pieces like the Indian giant squirrel have longer gestation periods.

15. Squirrels plant trees

The most iconic behavior of squirrels is storing nuts and acorns to ensure survival during the winter. Most squirrels don’t dig up all the buried food, so the unrecovered nuts grow into trees, and a certain amount is also lost to thieves. Squirrels play a significant role in spreading oak trees.

When squirrels eat flowers, drink nectar, or scurry from place to place, they aid pollination and seed dispersal. Their burrowing sometimes helps with soil aeration. Other animals like cottontail rabbits, shrews, and raccoons find homes in abandoned squirrel burrows.

16. Squirrel skins were once used as currency

Squirrels have always been hunted for food and their gorgeous pelt. The squirrel pelt was so valuable people used it as currency. The name of Finland's currency comes from the word squirrel skins in Finnish.

17. Squirrels are celebrities

No ‘facts about squirrels list’ is complete without including the animal’s celebrity status. Remember the popular children’s movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? The 2005 remake had a squirrel scene that featured 40 real squirrels—the squirrels trained for the role with the help of The Nut Room Animal trainer Michael Alexander. The training took months of hard work, but we would say the squirrels nailed it.

In Longview, Washington, there is a bridge named nutty narrows built by Amos Peters. He wanted to help squirrels who came to feast on the library grounds find the most efficient route to return to their homes safely. There were too many cases of squirrels being run over.

Today, the city holds an annual squirrel fest in honor of the amazing creatures. The city is kind of a squirrel-lovers capital.

Further aiding their celebrity, squirrels are one of the rare wild mammals that we regularly see during the daylight in our parks, gardens, and urban settings. Of course, they enjoy fame as they are super cute (unless destroying your garden planters to stash their nuts for winter), unlike some of the world's ugliest animals, which deserve their moment in the spotlight, too.

18. Some squirrel species are endangered

The Eurasian red squirrel is classified as near threatened. Their numbers have declined since the introduction and growth of the grey squirrel population. Red squirrels end up competing with the more dominant grey squirrels for food and habitat. They have also suffered a decline from squirrel pox disease. 

In America, the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel experienced a 90% reduction of its habitat due to deforestation. Thanks to the efforts of conservationists, they removed fox squirrels from the endangered species list in 2015. 

19. Squirrels are mischievous and get into a lot of trouble. 

The trees they feed on may experience stunted growth or death when they eat bark. This is the squirrel problem. They can chew through electrical cords, wood paneling, and insulation. They have been known to cause power outages time and again.

Squirrels also carry diseases that they can transfer to humans. In 2013, the Los Angeles National Forest authorities shut down camping when they found an infected squirrel living on the grounds. In 2020, a teenage boy died from the infection after eating a marmot mountain squirrel.


Chipmunks, prairie dogs, and marmots are squirrels too. Whether ground, flying, or tree, squirrels are a lovely sight. If you have only seen squirrels as pests, these amazing squirrel facts show you how awesome they can be.

Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with S.

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Brian S Arbogast et al (2017) Genetic data reveal a cryptic species of new world flying squirrel: Glaucomys oregonensis. Journal of Mammalogy. Vol 98, issue 4, pages 1027-1041.


Animal Diversity Web. Sciuridae squirrels.


Encyclopedia Britannica. Squirrel

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