OHIO OUTDOOR NOTEBOOK
By Laura Jones, Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Ohio Is One Squirrelly State
Squirrels have been scurrying across the Ohio landscape for thousands of years and today they represent one of the most abundant groups of wildlife in the Buckeye State. Lively, tail-twitching squirrels can be found chattering away throughout the states 88 counties thriving in our woodlands, cityscapes and backyards.
Actually, squirrels would be in big trouble if they didnt continuously gnaw. The constant grinding and wearing down keeps their teeth sharp and short without this activity, their teeth would grow so long that the lower front teeth could puncture the squirrels skull.
Squirrels have four toes on their front paws and five on their back paws, another shared trait in the rodent family. Their paws are nimble, allowing them to easily manipulate objects and pack down earth over buried food.
The most visible and audible of Ohios squirrels are tree squirrels. Unlike a majority of mammals, tree squirrels are active during the day. This daytime activity allows us to watch them gather food, play and raise their young.
Ohio has four species of tree squirrels: the eastern gray squirrel, eastern fox squirrel, red squirrel and the pocket-sized southern flying squirrel.
While common in many urban settings, the eastern gray squirrel primarily lives among the 7.9 million acres of forestland in Ohios southeast and southern hill country. When much of early Ohio was tree covered, the gray squirrels territory extended throughout the state. At one time, their numbers were so great that they often ruined the crops of Ohios pioneer farmers.
It has an overall grayish color and bushy tail. Its belly is whitish and the tail hairs are tipped with white. As with other squirrels, the tail of the gray squirrel is an all-purpose tool, providing balance on tree branches and telephone wires and acting as protection against the elements. An average adult weight for the gray squirrel is about one pound.
Have you ever seen a black squirrel? These unique-looking squirrels are simply eastern gray squirrels exhibiting a different color. Although not widespread across Ohio, they are commonly seen around the Kent State University area.
Relatively new to Ohios landscape is the largest of our tree squirrels, the eastern fox squirrel. Native to Midwest prairie states, the fox squirrel migrated east into Ohio as land was cleared for timber and agricultural purposes. By the early 1900s they had become established residents throughout much of the state, favoring then as today the woodlot country of agricultural western Ohio.
The red squirrel is the second smallest of our tree squirrels. Its size and olive brown color make it difficult to see, especially when it is sitting still. A broad band of red fur running down the center of its back from head to tail gives the red squirrel its name. Also known as the pine squirrel, because it gathers great piles of pinecones for food, the red squirrels diet is made up primarily of seeds and nuts. It will eat mushrooms and is known to impale the fungi on twigs and branches, letting them dry in the sun and then storing them to eat later. You can find the red squirrel throughout Ohios forests and in wooded city areas.
Numbering in the millions, squirrels play an important role in Ohios ecology. They are notorious for burying nuts and acorns and using their keen sense of smell to locate them during the winter months. But not all of the nuts are recovered and these buried treasures eventually sprout and grow, making the squirrel a major tree planter in Ohios forests.
For Further Information Contact: