What defines a pest? The majority of home owners picture them as gruesome-looking and disease-spreading. For farmers, it’s the animals which feed on crops. For electricity technicians, it’s the squirrels.
We will discuss the various aspects of squirrels, and why they can be considered vermin.
Squirrels are small rodents, native to the Americas, Africa and Eurasia. There are only two species of squirrels in the UK—the red squirrel, and the grey squirrel.
Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)
has a slender body which measures 19cm-23cm in length. Despite its name, its fur comes in many different colours—red, dark brown, and black. Coat colour may very depending on the season and location. It has a long, furry tail. The pelage on the belly is always white. Like almost all squirrels, the red squirrel has sharp, curved claws and rodent teeth pattern. It has distinct incisors which grow throughout its life
Gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
is the other type of squirrel in the UK. It is slightly larger than its ginger relative. The body reaches 23-30cm in length. Like the red squirrel, it has distinctly shaped incisors, curved claws and furry tails. The common pelage coating is grey in colour, yet white and black fur colours are not uncommon, especially in urban areas.
Both the red and grey squirrels are solitary for the majority of their lives, although they do exhibit some social traits. Communal nesting is popular for both species during winter and spring, and some grey squirrels are known to share nests.
Both species make their homes in sparsely forested regions. You may encounter them in recreational areas and parks. They also nest inside homes and garages. This is one of the main reason they are considered as pests.
Squirrel’s incisors never stop growing. This helps them maintain a diet high on hard nuts and seeds. When faced with hunger, squirrels can eat snakes, eggs and small insects. In the wild, tree squirrels rarely live longer than an year. In captivity, they can reach age of up to 20 years.
Squirrels are considered a wildlife nuisance. Due to their presence in urbanised areas, they often don’t fear contact with humans. They are even known to attack children and baby trolleys. There is at least one documented case of squirrels attacking and killing a pet dog.
Once a squirrel takes a residence in your premises, it can be very hard to get rid of it. Once inside, it considers your property as its own and turns it into a nest. Squirrels are particularly stubborn when it comes to their dwellings. They don’t fear scarecrows, flashing lights and loud noises and are often protective. They can also gnaw cables, insulation, frameworks and other components of your buildings.
Grey squirrels also cause widespread blackouts. As their teeth grow constantly, they need to grind them on hard surfaces. Sometimes they chew on power lines, which can cause a short circuit and knock out power. Sometimes they jump directly on power lines which can as well cause power shortage. Squirrels can also cause small structural damage to the buildings. Although relatively clean animals (especially when compared to other rodents), they are messy eaters and can scatter food debris around. They also leave teeth and claw marks on walls, furniture and wooden components.
In recent years many people opt for a squirrel pet. They are cute, clean and playful. Still, they are hard to look after. A squirrel needs a large cage with enough space to climb and jump. It also needs at least 2 hours a day outside the cage. The pet owner must provide a healthy varied diet—sunflower seeds, peanuts, acorns, fresh vegetables. Squirrels also need a good source of calcium to gnaw and grind their teeth on. The best solution are deer antlers or bovine bones.
Unlike other rodent pets squirrels are extremely clean. They frequently groom themselves and keep their nest clean and tidy. Their droppings are also easy to take care of—they are small, cylindrical and hard, and do not emit any unpleasant odours. Still squirrels like to make a mess while eating. Feeding outside the cage is not recommended.
It is easy to spot an infestation.
Unlike with rat control, the majority of people prefer to remove them than exterminate them.
The grey squirrel was popular game meat in Native American cuisines. It is still consumed in the US. In recent years, there has been interest in Grey squirrel as food in the UK due to their high population and fine quality meat. People praise its low fat content and taste. Squirrels are typically obtained by a professional trapper or hunter and thus all squirrel meat is free range.
Grey squirrels are invasive to the UK. They are also vectors of the squirrelpox disease. Neither humans nor grey squirrels suffer from this disease, but red squirrels population numbers are dwindling since the 19th century due to high infection rates.
Squirrels are also a typical “resident” of UK parks. Many people enjoy feeding them with nuts in a similar manner to feeding pigeons. In recent years squirrels have become a popular choice for a pet.
Images by: Peter Trimming
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