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Q: Squirrel activity and interaction behaviors ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Squirrel activity and interaction behaviors
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: etoile-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 30 Jul 2002 06:25 PDT
Expires: 29 Aug 2002 06:25 PDT
Question ID: 46831
I walk through a Washington DC park on my way to and from work each
day, and regularly see up to two dozen squirrels.  I've come to enjoy
watching them as I walk through the park, and I've learned a bit about
squirrel habits and behaviors.  One thing, though, continues to puzzle
me and I've not been able to find the answer myself.

From time to time, a squirrel seems to have gone crazy.  It leaps into
the air (sometimes quite high) and twists around, and runs back and
forth across a small space, frequently doing somersaults and twisting
on the ground.  I have seen them pick up a thin twig and jump around
with it, and if two squirrels are near each other they will leap
(twisting included) at and over each other.

What is the meaning of this behavior?  What are possible causes?

Subject: Re: Squirrel activity and interaction behaviors
Answered By: bethc-ga on 30 Jul 2002 08:57 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi etoile-ga,

It would seem that you are not alone in wondering at the behavior and
habits of squirrels. In researching your question, I found countless
others pondering such philosophical questions as:

Why are squirrels so interested in me?
Why did the squirrel cross the road?
Why do squirrels insist on existing?

Searching for an answer to your question lead me first to Jon’s World
o’ Squirrels, a veritable treasure trove of squirrel information. It
even includes a link entitled “Special Note for People Who Hunt and/or
Eat Squirrels”. (Too much information??) But, while interesting, it
didn’t really offer much insight into the frantic behaviors you
describe. I include it here, though, in case you would like to delve
further into the subject.

Jon’s World o’Squirrels

I then found some interesting facts regarding squirrel jumping and
dancing in a review of a book called, “Nuts About Squirrels” by
Richard E. Mallery

“How far can a squirrel jump?
  - Flying squirrels can jump about a quarter of a mile.  Normal
squirrels only 8-10 feet.”

“Why do squirrels sometimes dance in front of oncoming cars?
  - This is a natural squirrel tactic to confuse the enemy.”


I kept searching, and found, “The Scholarly Squirrel: A Definitive
Online Resource for the Squirrel Enthusiast”. This site seemed to
yield some real information.

“Although male squirrels are notorious for chasing females all during
the mating seasons (which occur between February and March and again
between July and August), female squirrels are ready to mate only one
day out of each season. A female can breed with up to thirty different
partners in a 24-hour period!”

(Possible explanation: These are male squirrels that you’re seeing and
they are either (1) mating (2) celebrating, or (3) just killing time
until that female is ready.)

“Urban squirrels are susceptible to growing accustomed to human
treats. In fact, once they are weaned on pizza, chocolate, and the
like, they will reject natural foods.”

(Okay, here’s a possibility--too much junk food?)

The Scholarly Squirrel: A Definitive Online Resource for the Squirrel

Then I came across the following:

“You see it every spring...squirrels racing in front of cars,
squirrels taunting cats, squirrels chasing dogs, and squirrels
stuffing their faces until their cheeks are on the verge of exploding.
Pretty normal squirrel behavior, right? Well, that's what I thought
until I read a very interesting report on the Internet. After yet
another near miss with yet another squirrel while riding in a car, it
occurred to the scientists that there might be a reason why so many
squirrels choose to run in front of cars at the very last second. At
first, they thought it might be a behavioral response to a fast-moving
object passing in front of them. Then it occurred to them that it
might be a desperate cry for attention. This of course led to the
belief that the squirrels are suicidal and are trying to end their
miserable lives. Exactly what was so miserable about their lives that
they would want to end it underneath a moving car? This is yet to be
determined. This site will keep you informed about this sad

Rainforest: The Squirrel

So it would seem that there is a dark and seamy side to squirrel
society. It was then that I discovered a site that revealed the
bizarre subject of squirrel hazing:
Squirrel Hazing: The Untold Story

It reveals the sad truth of squirrels driving other squirrels to the
types of dangerous and destructive behavior that can, sadly, only end
in disaster: cat taunting, dumpster diving, car racing and dog
baiting. Let me warn you that this is very disturbing stuff.

In the section entitled, “What to do to Prevent Squirrel Hazing” I
found a clue: “Peanut Oil" abuse has been linked to 75% of all
squirrel hazing deaths.”

So it is very likely that the squirrels you are observing in your park
are suffering from the results of kindly, but misinformed citizens
feeding them peanuts.

On a more serious note, I did locate a study which attempted to
correlate squirrel behavior with times of day. In so doing it
discusses squirrel ground activity and explains the energetic behavior
of squirrels:

“Often squirrels will run in order to find food, avoid competition
with other squirrels, or avoid predation. Running occurs both on the
ground and in trees. Miscellaneous activities include (but are not
limited to) jumping in an odd manner, playing with other squirrels,
grooming, and pseudo-mating; most of which are done by juvenile

So perhaps what you are seeing are only teenage squirrels, enjoying
their summer break in the park, and working off some excess energy
before the hard work of storing up acorns for the winter takes them
from the carefree pursuits of their youth.

Patterns in Squirrel Behavioral Ecology
Daily Activity Schedule of the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus
Andrew G. Watts

And I just couldn’t help including this item: a NJ school system
appears to be using squirrels as the models of behavior for their
board members:

“Why do squirrels appear to have such high energy and enthusiasm?

“Squirrels scurry around, gathering nuts and seeds in their cheeks,
and storing them away in the forest. They work this hard because they
are motivated by their goal- to store food for the winter. They are
motivated because their work is worthwhile. People are also motivated
for this reason- understanding that we can make the world a better
place gives us a feeling of worth.

“Additionally, squirrels are all working toward a shared goal.
Goal-sharing among board members means buy-in and support for each
other as well as the goal. As leaders, you must be able to create the
critical goals for your district. The rest of your team
(administrators, faculty and staff) can set the strategies and action
plans in place. People support those things which they have been able
to help create. The shared goals of a school district are the
descriptions of where you want the district to be in the future. They
focus attention on the priorities in an organized manner.”

And lastly, I leave you with this:

Live Squirrel Cam
for those times when you just can’t be in the park.

I hope you have enjoyed this little walk in the park, etoile, as much
as I have enjoyed researching this subject for you.



Search criteria:
"why do squirrels"
"squirrel behavior"
erratic OR bizarre OR frantic OR dancing OR jumping OR leaping
"squirrel behavior"

Clarification of Answer by bethc-ga on 01 Aug 2002 11:06 PDT
Thanks, etoile, for the comment and very nice rating. It's always good
to have one's work verified firsthand. I just hope this doesn't mean
that you'll have to take an alternate route through the park from now

etoile-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Excellent job, thank you!  I was concerned at first because none of
the answers seemed right to me, but walking home tonight I got
confirmation of the mating/celebrating/waiting suggestion.  It was a
bit more than I wanted to know about my squirrel friends, but I have
visual confirmation that you were right!  I wouldn't have thought to
watch for it if you hadn't mentioned it.  Thank you!

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