Red squirrels are a species of tree squirrel, a type of rodent. Rodents are small mammals that have a big pair of front teeth known as ‘incisors’ that will keep growing all throughout their life.
We get the name squirrel originally from the Greeks who called them skiourus which means shadow-tail. They get this name because of their speed in running up trees along with their distinctive long tails. This was then taken by the Latin language, which we use for animals’ scientific names. Sciurus vulgaris means common squirrel, as these are, or at least were the most common squirrel in Europe. Their common name red squirrel is because, as language evolves Sciurus became squirrel and, well, they’re red!
Red squirrels prefer to live in pine trees in the northern hemisphere, but not too far north where it would be too cold! They usually live in dense coniferous woodlands where there are different trees and bushes that have food all year round. They still hide food away for winter though, and when food is scarce, they will go to their secret hiding spaces.
They make a type of nest, just like a bird does with sticks, called a drey. They fill it with moss and soft bark to make it more comfortable.
Red squirrels are about 20cm long, with a tai,l as long as their body. This long tail helps them to stay balanced when climbing along the treetops. They have strong hind legs which they use to jump great distances. By moving their tails, they can even turn in mid-air.
Their long fluffy tails also make the perfect blanket to keep them warm while they sleep.
Red squirrels also have curved claws that dig into tree bark and allows them to climb quickly.
They are covered in light red fur, but their underside is white. Their tails and long ear tufts are usually the brightest red.
There are actually 40 subspecies of red squirrel, and some across Asia are much darker in colour than their European cousins.
Most squirrels are herbivores, so they only eat plants. They eat lots of seeds, nuts, and berries. They do not like sharing when it comes to food, but in the cold winters they may share their drey with another squirrel to stay warm. They store spare food in trees or bury it in the ground. Unfortunately, they often forget where they hid their food so will have to search for some time before they find it, or maybe another squirrels snacks, oops!
Red squirrels are not listed as endangered by global organisations. There are many of them all over Europe and Asia. However, since grey squirrels were introduced to the UK and Ireland their numbers have rapidly decreased so they are considered threatened here.
Grey squirrels are bigger, and their population often take up a lot of space in woods and eat the food meaning that red squirrels have nowhere to go and little to eat.
Since the 1990s however, we have been trying to help the red squirrel get back on their feet. Some areas have protected red squirrels by reforesting land, introducing some predators to reduce grey squirrel numbers, and shipping in red squirrels from areas where they are doing better.
Their numbers are recovering in some places but lots of work still needs to be done if we want to keep the red squirrel population healthy.
Eco Kids Planet, Animal Planet and National Geographic Kids are fantastic magazines where you can find out more about various animals and they contain amazing photography and even posters you can display in your bedroom.