The Red Squirrel
The Eurasian Tree Squirrel
Species: sciurus vulgaris
The red squirrel is common throughout Eurasia: from the Atlantic coast to Kamchatka, Sakhalin and Japan. The northern border of their habitat coincides with the border of the high forest: through the Kola peninsula towards the northern Urals and then to the south-west along the coasts of the sea of Okhotsk and the sea of Japan to Sakhalin and Korea. The southern border in the wet coincides with the southern border of the forest steppe but at the southern tip of the Urals it turns north and goes through Omsk and northern Kazakhstan to the south of Altai.
The red squirrel is a quite small and beautiful animal with oblong body and a bushy tail. On average it reaches about 20 cm long, and the tail measures further 15-20 cm. It has a round head with big black eyes, its ears are long and have tufts at the ends. It has sensitive hair on its snout, front legs and belly. The hind legs are longer and stronger than front legs. The red squirrel has sharp curved claws that enable it to climb and to hold food. The coat varies in colours dependin on the season. The squirrel sheds twice a year and changes the colour of the coat. The winter coat is thicker, softer and darker with considerably bigger eat tufts, the summer coat is thinner and shorter.
Squirrels are quite smart animals: they can hide and find nuts and seeds, and quickly understand that people are the source of food. They usually can be hand-fed. But at the same time squirrels are rather aggressive, suspicious and quarrelsome. They can become tame, but they will never be real cuddly pets. Even if you have gained your squirrel’s trust, they will afford you to stroke their back at most. Squirrels very seldom can be handled. Young squirrels usually adapt better than grown-up animals.
Your squirrel will need a spacious cage, about 60х50х50 cm for one animal. The frame should be made of metal because the squirrel will try to escape. Over the frame you can put a metal net with cells 10-15 sq.mm each. If the cage is outdoors or on the balcony, it is best to make iron duo-pitched roof over it. If the cage is indoors, the roof is not needed. You should have a wheel and a nest outside the cage. The cage must have branches, driftwood and shelves for the animal to move around. The squirrel’s claws row constantly, so if they don’t get milled, they will get too long for the squirrel to move on the floor. At daytime squirrels are always active, they are curious and alternate activities all the time. The shedding period can be difficult: some animals become lethargic and sluggish, others, on the contrary, become too active. Spring shedding in females normally occurs immediately after mating season; in males it starts earlier and lasts until the middle of the summer.
Squirrels’ menu is quite varied, they are not too fussy and eat almost anything they see: nuts, seeds, mushrooms, acorns, berries, fruit, vegetables, young shoots, roots, lichen, herbs, insects’ larvae, birds’ eggs and nestlings. Very often in times of hunger squirrels eat flower buds of fir trees. In early spring the squirrel gnaws the bones of dead animals. The amount of daily food depends on the season: in spring the squirrel eats up to 80 g of food daily, in winter only about 35 g.
In captivity squirrels can be fed with vegetables: spinach, red-headed cabbage, lettuce, endive, turnips, broccoli, celery (leaves and ½ of stem); finely cut fruit: berries, strawberry, raspberry, water melon, raisin, plums, apples and pears. Cereals are only a small part of squirrels’ menu, so you shouldn’t give a lot of them to your pet. Don’t feed the squirrel with cereals bought in a pet store: they contain honey and supplements that are dangerous for squirrels.
Squirrels shed. They are apt escape artists and can run away from a window of any height. Sometimes they don’t get attached to their owner. They can scratch in a very painful way. Squirrels are wild animals, so in captivity they tend to create a lot of problems both for people and for themselves.
Squirrels very rarely get ill, but in captivity they can become very stressed.
Average life span - 3 years.