I had never seen a squirrel until I left Australia and visited the United States. They delight me. I find their circus antics on the back lawn hilarious, and I have enjoyed feeding them peanuts and watching them steal bird feed. Then someone told me I shouldn't feed them, so I did some research to find out why. Here are ten things I learned about squirrels in the process:
- Their teeth grow continuously, which is why they will gnaw on anything that will help wear their teeth down, including veranda posts, roof beams and electricity wires.
- Squirrels were responsible for taking down the NASDAQ stock market on a number of occasions, when they gnawed on electrical wires, were electrocuted and caused a short circuit.
- Peanuts and birdseed are not good food for squirrels. Peanuts contain a trypsin inhibitor that affects a squirrel's ability to digest protein, and birdseed does not contain the nutrients a squirrel needs for a healthy diet. Squirrels that eat a large amount of peanuts and birdseed can end up malnourished and sick.
- Squirrels cannot digest cellulose (in leaves), so rely on nuts, seeds and bulbs for food.
- Early spring is the most difficult time for a squirrel to find food because all the seeds underground have sprouted and there are no new seeds falling from trees. During this time squirrels eat any buds they can find.
- Squirrels can learn to eat out of your hand, however this is not recommended as they don't know the difference between fingers and food, and their bite is very painful.
- Female squirrels get "spring fever" and become very protective of their nest, acting aggressively toward trespassers.
- A pack of black squirrels in Russia allegedly attacked and killed a dog when food supplies became scarce.
- There are small pockets of albino squirrels in parts of the United States. An organization called the Albino Squirrel Preservation Society, founded in 2001 by the University of Texas in Austin, aims to promote the protection of albino squirrels.
- Squirrels are still hunted for food in the American south, however their cute demeanor generally ensures their protection and toleration in many parts of the United States.