A squirrel is a type of rodent with over two hundred species grouped in the family Sciuridae. These animals look cute and innocent, but can turn out to be a nuisance if you have a well-maintained garden. This is because of their eating habits.
Let's take a look at what do squirrels eat, their feeding habits and adaptations.
Except for a few species, all of these rodents are vegetarians. They feed on various parts of plants and prefer sources which are rich in carbohydrates and proteins. Their long list of food sources mostly includes nuts, acorns, seeds, different fruits and vegetables. Among fruits, they love apples, oranges, grapes, apricots, avocados, bananas and even tomatoes. On the other hand, their vegetable preferences are carrots, broccoli and their favorite corn on the cob.
Apart from these preferred food items, there are others as well. In fact, a squirrel would feed on just anything in order to obtain energy. This habit makes it an opportunistic feeder. It relishes acorns, roots, mushrooms, tree bark, plant stems, leaves, cereal plants, pine cones, twigs, black walnuts, peanuts and the list goes on. An unusual choice of food also includes fungi and lichens.
One of their favorite delights is bulbs of flowers. They dig up the ground to find this delicacy and feast on it often. This is one of the reasons why they turn up as a nuisance in gardens. Your freshly planted flower bulbs will be ruined. Plus, plant shoots, leaves and roots will also be damaged as they nibble on them.
Some squirrel species are omnivores and, therefore, enjoy both vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian diet. The most common of these meat eaters include Flying Squirrel, Thirteen Lined Squirrel and the Antelope Squirrel. Their favorite food ranges from smaller insects to larger organisms like snakes, chicks and mice. A flying squirrel would also grasp small birds for a nice meal. It has also been known to pick up bird eggs from nests.
Apart from these predatory rodents, some squirrel species may also switch from their vegetarian diet to meat in desperate situations. For instance, when there is shortage of vegetarian food, they may start feeding on insects and worms in order to survive.
Adaptations for Feeding
Have you ever wondered how these small rodents are capable of breaking open hard shells of nuts so easily? They also chew hard nuts, twigs, tree bark and other hard parts of plants with no apparent difficulty. This is due to their natural adaptations which include their long and durable canines as well as their sharp claws. Their characteristic long canines keep growing no matter what the age of the rodent is. These teeth help in shelling nuts easily and in cutting and chewing hard plant matter. On the other hand, their sharp claws come in handy for digging flower buds and roots out.
One more area where the sharp claws of a squirrel prove to be useful is its habit of storing food. The rodent does not only save food for winters, but it is also in the habit of saving food everyday for future use. It digs up ground, usually near tree stems, and stores extra nuts, acorns and other types of dry food items there. It may also store its surplus food in holes of tree barks. The animal has a sharp memory and always remembers its points of food storage. This storing habit is another reason which makes these rodents garden pests. Meticulous home gardens can be ruined by random digging all over the place.
Have a look at some really interesting facts about squirrels' feeding habits.
- This small rodent has a very large appetite. The food it feeds on within seven days is almost equal to its total body weight.
- They forage for food here and there and have also been seen going after seeds which people put on bird feeders.
- A squirrel's love for pasta was revealed by some tourists in UK who reported to have observed the animal pull out some spaghetti from a trash can and consume it with enjoyment.
A squirrel is, indeed, a fascinating and amusing rodent. Its feeing preferences mostly depend on its environment and what food sources are available. It is not picky at all. If you adore the organism, you can hand some corn-on-cob out around trees in your garden.