Sciurus Carolinensis - Eastern Gray Squirrel | Hampton Bays, New York

© Sophie W. Smith

Joined October 2012

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Artist's Description

Scientific classification
Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum:Chordata
Class:Mammalia
Order:Rodentia
Family:Sciuridae
Genus:Sciurus
Subgenus:Sciurus
Species:S. carolinensis
Binomial name
Sciurus carolinensis

Like many members of the family Sciuridae, the eastern gray squirrel is a scatter-hoarder; it hoards food in numerous small caches for later recovery. Some caches are quite temporary, especially those made near the site of a sudden abundance of food which can be retrieved within hours or days for reburial in a more secure site. Others are more permanent and are not retrieved until months later. Each squirrel is estimated to make several thousand caches each season. The squirrels have very accurate spatial memory for the locations of these caches, and use distant and nearby landmarks to retrieve them. Smell is used once the squirrel is within a few inches of the cache.
Squirrels sometimes use deceptive behavior to prevent other animals from retrieving cached food. They will pretend to bury the object if they feel that they are being watched. They do this by preparing the spot as usual, for instance digging a hole or widening a crack, miming the placement of the food, while actually concealing it in their mouths, and then covering up the “cache” as if they had deposited the object. They also hide behind vegetation while burying food or hide it high up in trees (if their rival is not arboreal). Such a complex repertoire suggests that the behaviors are not innate, and imply theory of mind thinking.
The eastern gray squirrel is one of very few mammalian species that can descend a tree head-first. It does this by turning its feet so the claws of its hind paws are backward-pointing and can grip the tree bark.
Eastern gray squirrels build a type of nest, known as a drey, in the forks of trees, consisting mainly of dry leaves and twigs. Males and females may share the same nest for short times during the breeding season, and during cold winter spells, squirrels may share a drey to stay warm. They may also nest in the attic or exterior walls of a house, where they may be regarded as pests, and as fire hazards due to their habit of gnawing on electrical cables. In addition, squirrels may inhabit a permanent tree den hollowed out in the trunk or a large branch of a tree.
Eastern gray squirrels are crepuscular, or more active during the early and late hours of the day, and tend to avoid the heat in the middle of a summer day. They do not hibernate. Read more

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