Squirrel – The Tiny Marvels of Nature!


Squirrels are small to medium-sized rodents that are known for their playful nature, bushy tails, and nimble agility. They’re native to every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Squirrels play a vital role in forest regeneration through their seed-scattering activities.

Some species, like the tree squirrels, spend most of their time in trees, while others, like the ground squirrels, live mostly on the ground, and yet others spend a large part of their lives in burrows.

With their delightful bushy tails and nimble acrobatics, they are a common sight worldwide.

Types of Squirrels

types of squirrels

There are more than 200 species of squirrels, broadly categorized into three types: tree squirrels, ground squirrels, and flying squirrels.

Tree squirrels, as their name implies, prefer treetops and are the most commonly seen. Ground squirrels inhabit the lower terrain and dig burrows for homes. Flying squirrels, the most intriguing of the three, glide from tree to tree using a flap of skin stretched between their limbs.

Lifespan5 – 10 years
WeightVaries by species, typically 340 – 960 grams
HeightVaries by species, typically 20 – 30 cm (without tail)
Number of SpeciesOver 200 species
Classification on the basis of dietOmnivore
Top speed20-30 km/h
Conservation statusMost species listed as Least Concern

Natural History

where did squirrels come from

Squirrels have a rich natural history tracing back over 30 million years. Through this vast timeline, squirrels have adapted and diversified, resulting in the vast number of species we have today.

The early fossil record can be traced back approximately 36 million years to the Late Eocene epoch, a period of time when the first recognizably squirrel-like fossils appeared.

By around 18-20 million years ago, during the Miocene epoch, the fossil record indicates that modern groups of squirrels had started to appear. These include ground squirrels, tree squirrels, and flying squirrels.

In the past 300 years, the observable changes in squirrel populations are more likely due to human influence and environmental changes rather than evolutionary ones.


is a squirrel a mammal

The first species of squirrels were likely ground-dwelling creatures, given that the environments in which they evolved were probably filled with small bushes and undergrowth rather than the large trees we often associate with squirrels today. It is believed that the tree-dwelling habit evolved later as forests grew and diversified.

Over the course of millions of years, these early squirrel-like creatures diversified into a wide array of species, each adapted to its own unique lifestyle and habitat. The major branch points in squirrel evolution likely corresponded to changes in the Earth’s climate and geography, as well as the evolution of new types of plant life.

Classification and Taxonomy

squirrel family lower classifications

Squirrels are scientifically classified under the Animalia kingdom and Chordata phylum. They fall into the class Mammalia, which houses all mammals and belongs to the order Rodentia, highlighting their rodent lineage. Their family, Sciuridae, encompasses all tree and flying squirrels, while ground squirrels belong to a different category, Marmotini.

SpecieVaries, e.g., Sciurus carolinensis (Eastern gray squirrel), Sciurus niger (Fox squirrel)

Scientific Name for Squirrel

The scientific name for the squirrel depends on the species. For example, the scientific name for the common Eastern gray squirrel is Sciurus carolinensis.

Squirrel Family

The squirrel family includes not only flying and tree squirrels but also other species, such as the chipmunks, prairie dogs, and marmots.

squirrel family

Squirrel Species

There are over 200 species of squirrels worldwide, each unique in their ways. They range from the familiar Eastern gray squirrel, fox squirrel, and red squirrel to the less-known tufted ground squirrel and Malabar giant squirrel.

What Does a Squirrel Look Like

What Does a Squirrel Look Like

Squirrels are usually small rodents with slim bodies, bushy tails, and large eyes. They typically have a soft fur coat that can be gray, red, brown, or white, depending on the species.

Squirrels have slender bodies with large eyes and a bushy tail. They typically have a soft fur coat that varies in color among species from black, grey, brown, to red, and occasionally white. The size of a squirrel can range from a small chipmunk or red squirrel to larger species like the Eastern Gray Squirrel.

SizeSmall to medium
Skin/coat colorVaries by species, typically brown, gray, or red
PatternVaries by species
TailLong and bushy
Other notable traitSharp claws for climbing

How Big Is a Squirrel

size of squirrel

Squirrel size can vary considerably among most species. Smaller squirrels, like the African pygmy squirrel, measure just 5 inches, while the larger species, like the Malabar giant squirrel, can reach lengths up to 36 inches, including their tail.


Squirrels are versatile creatures found in various habitats, including woodlands, grasslands, and even suburban areas.

Squirrels Habitat

squirrels habitat

Their habitat typically depends on the type of squirrel. Tree squirrels prefer forested areas where they have plenty of access to tree cavities for nesting. Ground squirrels favor open grasslands and meadows where they can dig burrows.

Squirrel Range 

Squirrels are distributed worldwide, found in every continent except Antarctica and Australia.

ContinentsAll continents except Australia and Antarctica
SubcontinentsVaries by species
Biogeographical realmsNearctic, Palearctic, Afrotropic, Indomalaya, Neotropic
WWF biomesTemperate Broadleaf and Mixed Forests, Coniferous Forests, Tundra, Temperate Grasslands, Deserts and Xeric Shrublands

Are Squirrels Omnivores

Squirrels are omnivores. They mainly consume plant-based food like nuts, seeds, and fruits but will also eat insects, eggs, and even small birds when the opportunity arises.

Population Threats and Predators

group of squirrels

Predators vary depending on the geographical location and species of squirrel. Common predators include birds of prey, snakes, and carnivorous mammals such as weasels, coyotes, and foxes. Habitat loss due to deforestation and urbanization is a significant threat to squirrel populations.

Squirrel Population

Squirrels are widespread and abundant. However, specific species like the San Joaquin antelope squirrel and the Idaho ground squirrel are considered threatened due to habitat loss.

Are Squirrels Endangered

are squirrels endangered?

While most squirrel species have healthy populations and are not endangered, some, like the previously mentioned San Joaquin antelope squirrel, are indeed endangered or vulnerable due to habitat loss and environmental changes.

The squirrel’s enduring charm, their ecological importance in seed dispersion, and the sheer joy they bring to watchers make their conservation crucial. It’s up to us to ensure that these endearing arboreal acrobats continue to grace our landscapes for generations to come.

Squirrel Characteristics 

Squirrels are highly recognizable rodents due to their bushy tails and nimble movements. The characteristic physical traits and behaviors of squirrels vary greatly between species, but they share some common features and behaviors.

NocturnalVaries by species
Pack huntersNo
Ambush predatorNo
Apex predatorNo
NomadicNot generally
Dominance hierarchyNo
Not a migrantGenerally yes
Fast AnimalYes

Squirrel Behavior

characteristics of a squirrel


Squirrels are predominantly herbivorous, subsisting on a diet of seeds, nuts, tree buds, fruits, roots, and bark. However, they are technically omnivorous and occasionally supplement their diet with proteins from insects, eggs, small birds, and even smaller rodents.

Squirrels have a habit of hoarding food, storing their extra finds in hidden spots to get through leaner times, especially during winter.

Reproduction and Mating

species of squirrels

Squirrels are solitary small animals but seek out companionship for mating. Depending on the species and their specific habitat, squirrels may breed once or twice a year, usually in late winter or early spring. The female raises the young (called kittens or pups) alone. Baby squirrels are born blind and hairless, completely dependent on their mother’s care.

Mating behaviorMultiple mates
Reproduction seasonVaries, often spring and fall
Pregnancy durationApproximately 6 weeks
Baby carryingNo
Independent age2 – 3 months
Baby namePup or kit, juvenile, yearling

Squirrel Adaptations

squirrel identification guide

Squirrels are adapted to thrive in their specific environments. Tree squirrels, for example, have sharp claws for climbing and balance, while ground squirrels have more robust limbs for digging burrows. Their large eyes aid their keen sense of vision necessary to detect predators from a distance.

For instance, the Neotropical pygmy squirrel is a small, energetic creature that seamlessly camouflages within the lush rainforest, distinguished by its vibrant fur and nimble agility. Northern flying squirrels are nocturnal creatures with their unique ability to glide through the air using a patagium, a furry membrane that stretches between their limbs.


Squirrels communicate through a series of chirps and tail movements. Their vocalizations and tail signals are particularly vital in warning other squirrels of danger. Certain movements and postures can also indicate submission or aggression during social interactions.

Sleeping Habits

 squirrels Sleeping habits

Squirrels are typically diurnal or crepuscular, meaning they are most active during the early morning and late afternoon. They sleep in nests or dens that they construct from leaves and other materials. In colder regions, squirrels may enter a state of torpor in winter to conserve energy.

Relationship with Humans

are squirrels a rodent

Squirrels have a long-standing and complex relationship with humans, which ranges from cohabitation in urban parks to direct interaction as pets. They are admired for their agility, adaptability, and charming antics but can sometimes be considered pests.

Squirrels in Zoo

In zoos and wildlife parks, squirrels add an element of liveliness and entertainment. They are typically part of larger exhibits that depict a specific biome or ecosystem. While they may not be the central attraction, their active nature, and intriguing behaviors often draw the attention of visitors, particularly children. Squirrels in these settings contribute to educating the public about wildlife, biodiversity, and conservation efforts.

Zookeepers ensure the squirrels have environments that mimic their natural habitats, with enough trees or burrowing spaces. The diets provided to them in zoos replicate their natural food sources, such as nuts, seeds, fruits, and, occasionally, small insects.

Squirrels as Pets

Squirrels as pets

Some species of squirrels, particularly the smaller ones like sugar gliders or flying squirrels, can be kept as exotic pets. These small mammals are intriguing for their unique ability to glide from tree to tree.

However, keeping a squirrel as a pet is not a commitment to be taken lightly. They require a large, secure enclosure that allows them to engage in their natural behaviors like climbing and exploring. Their diet must be carefully controlled and should consist of a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and protein sources. It’s also crucial to check local laws and regulations, as keeping squirrels as pets is illegal in some jurisdictions without a permit.

Despite the challenges, many people find the experience rewarding. Pet squirrels can form strong bonds with their owners and offer a unique chance to observe these lively creatures up close.

Remember, whether in zoos, as pets, or living freely in parks or forest canopy areas, squirrels play important roles in our ecosystems and deserve our respect and protection.

Conservation Status

squirrel animal

Squirrels, in their vast diversity, have varying conservation statuses based on their species, habitats, and the threats they face. Here’s an overview:

Most common species of squirrels, such as the Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), are listed as ‘Least Concern’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to their widespread distribution and stable population trends.

However, not all squirrels share this fortunate position. Several species are facing significant threats and are categorized under different levels of concern. For instance, the San Joaquin antelope squirrel (Ammospermophilus nelsoni) is listed as ‘Vulnerable’, primarily due to habitat loss.

Some species, like the Malabar Giant Squirrel (Ratufa indica), have been classified as ‘Near Threatened’ due to habitat fragmentation and hunting.

Moreover, certain rare and isolated species, such as the Namdapha flying squirrel (Biswamoyopterus biswasi) are critically endangered with an extremely low and decreasing population.

The conservation status of squirrels underlines the importance of habitat preservation and responsible wildlife interaction. To ensure the survival of these fascinating creatures, it’s essential to support conservation efforts that aim at protecting their habitats and, whenever possible, contribute to citizen science initiatives that help track and monitor squirrel populations.

Facts About Squirrels

What is a Group of Squirrels Called
  • Squirrels plant countless new trees each year simply by forgetting where they put their acorns. They don’t dig up all of their buried nuts, which grow into trees.
  • A squirrel’s front teeth never stop growing.
  • Squirrels are very organized.
  • Squirrels exhibit impressive petite bodies. For instance, they possess padded feet that effectively cushion jumps spanning distances of up to 20 feet (6 meters). The hind legs of squirrels are double-jointed.
  • The word “squirrel” means “shadow tail” in ancient Greek.
  • Some squirrels can fly. The scientific term for flying squirrels is Petauristini. However, they don’t fly in the same manner as birds; instead, flying squirrels glide gracefully from one tree to another.
  • Squirrels can find food buried beneath a foot of snow.
  • Oriental giant squirrels, known for their impressive size, can weigh up to an astonishing 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds), making them one of the largest squirrel species in the world.
  • Humans introduced squirrels to most of our major city parks.


Is a Squirrel a Rodent?

Yes, squirrels are classified as rodents. They belong to the family Sciuridae, which is part of the order Rodentia, the rodent order. This order is the largest order of mammals, comprising about 40% of all mammalian species. Rodents are characterized by a single pair of continuously growing incisors in each of the upper and lower jaws, which they use for gnawing.

Are Squirrels Herbivores Carnivores, or Omnivores?

Squirrels are typically omnivores, although the majority of their diet consists of plant-based foods. They commonly eat nuts, seeds, fruits, and green vegetation. However, squirrels will also eat insects, bird eggs, small birds, and even small rodents when the opportunity arises. They also eat fungi and, in some cases, tree bark.

Where are Squirrels From?

Squirrels are native to every continent except Australia and Antarctica. This large and diverse family of rodents, Sciuridae, has adapted to an equally diverse range of habitats.

What is a Group of Squirrels Called?

A group of squirrels is typically called a “scurry” or a “dray.” However, it’s worth noting that squirrels are generally solitary animals and are not often seen in groups. When they do come together, it’s usually a mother and her young (which can be referred to as a dray) or in situations with abundant food sources. Dray can also refer to a squirrel’s nest.

Are Squirrels Mammals?

Yes, squirrels are mammals. They are part of the order Rodentia and the family Sciuridae. As mammals, they are warm-blooded vertebrates, have hair or fur, and females produce milk to feed their young, among other characteristics.

What Does a Baby Squirrel Look Like?

A newborn baby squirrel, often referred to as a kit or pup, is quite small and underdeveloped at birth. They typically weigh around 13 to 18 grams and are about an inch long. These newborns are born hairless with slightly transparent, pink skin that allows their developing veins to show through.

Baby squirrels are altricial, which means they are born in a highly undeveloped state. Their eyes and ears are sealed shut at birth and only start to open after about three to four weeks. Newborn squirrels are completely dependent on their mother for warmth, nutrition, and even for stimulation to excrete waste.


In conclusion, squirrels, as a part of the diverse and widespread family Sciuridae, demonstrate remarkable adaptability to various environments across the globe, a testament to their resilience and ecological importance.

Their evolutionary journey is a fascinating story of adaptation and survival over millions of years. From tree-dwelling species to ground dwellers and the remarkable flying squirrels, these creatures reflect an incredible range of biological diversity.

Moreover, their interactions with human environments in recent centuries highlight the influence of anthropogenic change on wildlife. While they may be familiar figures in our parks, gardens, and mixed forests, squirrels have a complex natural history that requires further exploration.

WAF editorial team is a passionate and diverse group that includes animal experts, researchers, writers, editors, and devoted pet owners. Our main goal is to share valuable insights about the animal kingdom and strengthen the special bond between humans and animals. Our eclectic and ever-growing team is committed to bringing you accurate and informative content to promote animal welfare and foster positive interactions with the wonderful world of animals. Join us on this exciting journey as we explore and celebrate the beauty and importance of our animal companions!

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