Saturday, December 08, 2007

Unplugged Project: Nature: Red Squirrel Tunnels

Red squirrels can be sassy little pests that may move into your attic every winter. They are agressive and noisy. But they are also cute and creative. Once my daughter Amy fixed the bird feeder so that the squirrel couldn't eat the bird seed, it had to eat the seed kicked out by the birds onto the ground. I learned that the squirrel has a maze of tunnels under the snow in order to cross large open areas without being seen. The photos below are of the squirrel activities and show the evidence of tunnels under the snow. I have discovered two reasons why the squirrel would have such intricate tunnels. Look carefully at the photos below. Can you find the tunnel entrances? Can you see evidence of the tunnels under the snow? Can you think of two reasons why red squirrels would build these tunnels? Follow my journey of discovery in the photographs below.

One more fascinating fact about red squirrels discovered by one of my favorite authors, Bernd Heinrich and published in Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 73, No. 1 (Feb., 1992), pp. 51-54.:
Red squirrels, Tamiasciurus hudsonicus, were observed systematically harvesting sugar and syrup from sugar maple trees (Acer saccharum) in a mixed stand of young hardwood trees in Western Maine. Each tap consisted of a single pair of chisel-like grooves of an apparent single bite that punctured the tree to the sap-bearing xylem. The dripping dilute sap was not harvested. Instead, the squirrels came back later and selectively visited the trees that had been punctured after most of the water from the sap had evaporated. The characteristic tooth marks left by sugaring red squirrels were observed at 22 other sites in Maine and Vermont.
American Society of Mammologists
All photos will open in a new window when clicked.
Answers to my two questions are in the first comment.

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Next week's Project: STRING

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  1. I have thought of two reasons why the squirrels dig tunnels:
    * to find food hidden under the snow
    * more importantly: to avoid being seen by coyotes, foxes, and owls.

    Perhaps you can think of other reasons. Be sure to leave your ideas and thoughts in the comments. Thank you.

  2. What clever little animals! I had no idea they would do that, but then we have never had that much snow here in my memory. I think you're right on in your evaluation of why they build tunnels. You left out another possible predator, though: cats. ;-)

  3. This is amazing ! I have never seen our squirrels so deep in the snow. I have to say we don't have snow here very often and not enough to dig tunnels, I had never seen a squirrel in my garden either, only in the little wood a few meters farer. But in London the grey once came on the terrace of my son's house and looked through the window. You should have seen Pookie's face !
    Two peoples had problems with the new draft Blogger thing they couldn't comment and send me an email. I just checked and to my surprise on my Writer Cramps blog it went back to "normal" and I hadn't done anything. Now I put always this Linkme up thing on and leave it as it is. I think it will take some time before it really works perfectly, remember the show with Blogger in Beta or new Blogger ?? that was the same.

  4. Those are some really beautiful photos! I especially like the one of the squirrel with the snow on his face.

  5. Hi Andree,
    I was asked about the red squirrel post from last week, are they the same as yours. Well I can see the similarities but I would say they are a different red squirrel.
    Love the idea of them building snow tunnels, I have never seen that behaviour, perhaps it's because we very rarely get that depth of snow for long periods.

    Cheers Mark

  6. Wow, what wonderful pictures. How long did it take you to get those. We don't have squirrels here. They're certainly cute little animals, though.

    I think another reason to dig tunnels would be to access food in all sorts of weather, too. They'd be pretty protected.

  7. Wow, looks like you have a lot of snow. These pictures are great as always. Maybe they did the tunnels for warmth as well.

  8. I love the photos. Great job. It is really neat to see that they are building the tunnels all around.

  9. Those photos are fabulous! What kind of camera do you have? I would love to be able to get telephoto shots like that.

    That is very interesting about the tunnels. I would also guess that the primary reason for the tunnels is protection. After all, a red squirrel would stand out easily against a white snowy field. I wonder why nature doesn't give them a white winter coat like some rabbits?

    The most common squirrel here is the Abert Squirrel (a very large gray variety with cute tufts on the ears). The Aberts stay out of harm's way by running up the trunks of the tall Ponderosa pines and leaping from tree to tree (they must not be afraid of heights!).

    I am glad your computer is back in the land of the living!

  10. That is a great pictorial!
    Thanks for sharing.

  11. What excellent photographs! We don't have many red squirrels here, they're a protected species. We do have some wild grey ones but red ones are really rare.

    My sister emmigrated to Canada six years ago and she often complains about the squirrels. We find it hard to understand as here they are so rare it's really exciting if you do spot one. I've only seen one in the lst year but bizarely it was crossing the road at a pelican crossing in the middle of town! They certainly are smart creatures!


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