A squirrel is a small or medium-sized rodent of the family Sciuridae. In the English-speaking world, it commonly refers to members of this family's genera Sciurus and Tamiasciurus, which are tree squirrels that have large bushy tails, and are indigenous to Europe (but not Ireland), Asia and the Americas. Similar genera are found in Africa.

The Sciuridae family also include flying squirrels, as well as ground squirrels such as the chipmunks, prairie dogs, and woodchucks. Members of the family Anomaluridae are sometimes misleadingly referred to as "scaly-tailed flying squirrels" although they are not closely related to the true squirrels.

The word squirrel, first attested in 1327, comes from the Old French ésqurial, which itself comes from the Vulgar Latin word scuriolus (squirrel), a variant of the Latin sciurus. Sciurus comes from the Greek word skiouros, a compound of skia (σκιά; "shadow") and oura (ούρά; "tail"). Skiouros might be liberally translated as "That which makes a shade with its tail", or "That which sits in the shadow of its tail". The verb form (meaning "to hide or store") is first recorded in 1939.

Common squirrels include the Fox Squirrel (S. niger); the Western Gray Squirrel (S. griseus); the Douglas Squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii); the American Red Squirrel T. hudsonicus; and the Eastern Gray Squirrel (S. carolinensis), of which the "Black Squirrel" is a variant.

Unlike rabbits or deer, squirrels cannot digest cellulose and must rely on foods rich in protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Early spring is the hardest time of year for squirrels, since buried nuts begin to sprout and are no longer available and new food sources have not become available yet. During these times squirrels rely heavily on the buds of trees, in particular, those of the Silver Maple. Squirrels are omnivores; they eat a wide variety of plant food, including nuts, seeds, conifer cones, fruits, fungi, and green vegetation, and they also eat insects, eggs, and even small birds, smaller mammals, frogs, and carrion. In tropical areas, these foods often replace nuts.

Ground and tree squirrels are typically diurnal, while flying squirrels tend to be nocturnal -- except for lactating flying squirrels and their offspring, who have a period of diurnality during the summer.

Predatory behavior by various species of ground squirrels, particularly the thirteen-lined ground squirrel, has been noted. Bailey (1923), for example, observed a thirteen-lined ground squirrel preying upon a young chicken. Wistrand (1972) reported seeing this same species eating a freshly-killed snake. Whitaker (1972) examined the stomachs of 139 thirteen-lined ground squirrels, and found bird flesh in four the specimens and the remains of a short-tailed shrew in one; Bradley (1968), examining white-tailed antelope squirrels' stomachs, found at least 10% of his 609 specimens' stomachs contained some type of vertebrate — mostly lizards and rodents. Morgart (1985) observed a white-tailed antelope squirrel capturing and eating a silky pocket mouse.

Squirrels are generally clever and persistent animals. In residential neighborhoods they are notorious for eating out of bird feeders, digging in potted plants either to bury or recover seeds, and for inhabiting sheltered areas including attics. While many companies sell bird feeders which are supposedly "squirrel-proof", very few of them really are. Although expert climbers, and primarily arboreal, squirrels also thrive in urban environments that are largely free of trees.

Squirrels are sometimes considered pests because of their propensity to chew on various edible and inedible objects. This characteristic trait aids in maintaining sharp teeth, and because their teeth grow continuously, prevents over-growth. Homeowners in areas with a heavy squirrel population must keep attics and basements carefully sealed to prevent property damage caused by nesting squirrels. (A squirrel nest is known as a "drey", especially in Britain.) Some homeowners resort to more interesting ways of dealing with this problem, such as collecting and planting fur from pets (such as domestic cats and dogs) in attics. This fur will indicate to nesting squirrels that a potential predator roams and will encourage evacuation. Fake owls and scarecrows are generally ignored by the animals, and the best way to prevent chewing on an object is to coat it with something to make it undesirable: for instance a soft cloth or chili pepper paste or powder. Squirrel trapping is also practiced to remove them from residential areas.

Squirrels can be trained to be hand-fed. Because they are able to cache surplus food, they will take as much food as is available. Squirrels living in parks and campuses in cities have learned that humans are typically a ready source of food. Hand feeding is not recommended, however, because squirrels may carry plague or other animal-borne diseases. Even if they do not carry disease, they often have a hard time telling fingertips from food, and bites are painful.

Squirrels are often the cause of electricity outages. The animals will enter transformers or capacitors looking for food. The squirrels are then electrocuted and cause a power surge that short-circuits equipment. Squirrels have brought down the high-tech NASDAQ stock market twice and were responsible for a spate of power outages at the University of Alabama. They will often chew on tree branches to sharpen their teeth but cannot tell the difference between a tree branch and a live power line. Rubber plates are sometimes used to prevent access to these facilities.

Squirrels were responsible for 177 power outages in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1980, which represented 24% of all outages. Estimated annual costs were $23,364 for repairs, public relations, and lost revenue. In Omaha, in 1985, squirrels caused 332 outages costing at least $47,144. After squirrel guards were installed over pole-mounted transformers in Lincoln in 1985, annual costs were reduced 78% to $5,148.

Urban squirrels have learned to get a great deal of food from over-generous humans. One of the more common and inexpensive foods fed to squirrels is peanuts. Recent studies however have shown that raw peanuts contain a trypsin inhibitor that prevents the absorption of protein in the intestine. Dr. James K. Kieswetter of Eastern Washington University suggests using roasted peanuts instead. However, wildlife rehabilitators in the field have noted that neither raw and roasted peanuts or sunflower seeds are good for squirrels, since they are deficient in several nutrients needed. This type of deficiency has been found to cause Metabolic Bone Disease, a somewhat common ailment found in malnourished squirrels.

Until recent times, squirrel meat was considered a favored meat in certain regions of the United States where it can be listed as wild game. This is evidenced by extensive recipes for its preparation found in cookbooks including older copies of The Joy of Cooking. Squirrel meat can be exchanged for rabbit or chicken in recipes although squirrel meat is more tender than the latter. Its light red or pink flesh has only a slight game taste. In many areas of the U.S., particularly areas of the American South, squirrels are hunted for food.

Despite periodic complaints about the animal as a pest, general public opinion towards the animal is favorable, thanks to its agreeable appearance, intelligence and its eating styles and habits. Squirrels are arguably the most successful wild urban animal species. Squirrels are popular characters in cartoons and children's books, such as the works of Beatrix Potter, Redwall, the squirrel Pattertwig in C.S. Lewis's book Prince Caspian, Slappy Squirrel of Animaniacs, Sandy Cheeks from Spongebob Squarepants, Hammy from Over The Hedge and Rocky, Bullwinkle's partner in adventures.

Albino squirrels are thought by some to be a source of good luck. The Albino Squirrel Preservation Society was founded at the University of Texas at Austin in 2001. Olney, Illinois, is home of the world's largest known albino-squirrel colony. Kenton, Tennessee, is home to about 200 albino squirrels. Brevard, North Carolina and Marionville, Missouri have a substantial population of white (not albino) squirrels. Western Kentucky University has a locally famous population of white squirrels. Exeter, Ontario in Canada is known for having non-albino white squirrels, believed to be the result of a genetic mutation in the early 20th century. White squirrels are commonly seen in Dayton, Ohio.

Jim Belushi voiced an anthropomorphic squirrel named Benny in The Wild. The Redwall series features squirrels playing major parts.Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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