November 15, 2010

A Squirrel-y Time of Year

As the winter season creeps its way into Washington State, you may feel the urge to eat comfort food and wrap up in warm blankets.  While we den up, a backyard animal is hard at work—the squirrel.
There are 13 different species of squirrels found in Washington State, some are native and others have been introduced.  While each species has its own set of winter behaviors, one frequently seen species, the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), can be seen carrying many tasty morsels throughout the day.

As food sources for squirrels become harder to find during the winter months, the Eastern Gray Squirrel and many other squirrel species can be seen burying, or storing, food.  Constantly busy during this time of year, these squirrels collect seeds from trees and other plants as well as fungi and insects.  Eastern Gray Squirrels bury these items in winter caches and can find these locations in the future by using memory and smell.

Sometimes squirrels can forget where caches are located, and the result is good for the environment.  When winter caches go uneaten, these buried seeds may aid in tree dispersal and contribute to the growth of forest ecosystems.  As I watch these creatures investigate my gorgeous Japanese Maple, I can only hope that someday they can plant another one for me in my backyard!
Come see squirrels and touch other mammals this Saturday, Nov. 20, 10 am – 4 pm at the Burke Museum’s Meet the Mammals family day event.

Posted By:  Andrea Barber, Communications