Red squirrel facts

Scientific name Sciurus vulgaris

 

Life span They can live for up to 5 or 6 years in the wild.

 

Statistics Head and body length: 18-24cm
Tail length: 14-20cm
Weight: 250-350g

 

Physical description Red squirrels’ fur can range from a warm reddish-brown in summer, to a deep brown with grey in winter. The colour may be very variable, ranging from almost black to buff, yet their underside is always cream. They have a bushy tail and ear tufts.

 

Distribution Red squirrels are widespread in Europe, but have largely been replaced by the grey squirrel in England, Wales and in local pockets in Italy. They are absent from southern Spain and the Mediterranean islands.

 

Habitat Red squirrels live in both conifer and broadleaved woodland. They can be found at altitudes up to 2000m in the Alps and Pyrenees.

 

Diet Red squirrels eat spruce and pine seeds, acorns, berries, fungi, bark and sap tissue. In the autumn they store surplus food either just below the ground or in the gaps in tree trunks.

 

Behaviour Red squirrels live in a spherical nest (drey) of approximately 30cm in diameter, which has a frame of twigs and is lined with moss and grass. The drey is usually at least 6m off the ground and may be in a hole in a tree or set against the trunk and branches.Each squirrel may use several dreys and they have a typical home range of three to seven hectares. They do not hibernate, but are less active when weather conditions are bad and can remain in their dreys for several days at a time.

 

Reproduction They mate between January and March, and have a litter of 1-6 (usually 3-4), following a gestation period of 36-42 days. If there is a poor cone crop the first litters may not be born until the summer. Red squirrels can have two litters a year.
The young are called kittens and are born with their eyes closed, without teeth or hair. They are weaned at 10 weeks, when they are ready to leave the drey.
Parental care involves only the female.

 

Other interesting red squirrel facts: They have four fingers and five toes.
They can be right or left-handed when eating a pine cone.
They can swim.
Reds’ coats moult twice a year, once after winter and then in the late summer before the weather gets colder.
They moult their ear tufts once a year, in late autumn.

 

Sources: BBC, Forestry Commission, Dr Craig Shuttleworth (RSST Conservation Adviser)

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