If you’ve ever walked through our Nature Trails, you’ve probably encountered the many squirrels that live on our grounds! Although some of them look more brown in appearance, they’re all eastern gray squirrels. These squirrels are native to our area, but there’s another squirrel species you might also encounter. Read on to explore these awesome animals!
P.S. Afraid that your young scientist will ask a question that will stump you? Remember, you don’t have to have all the answers! Click here for more helpful tips from our educators.
What do squirrels eat?
It’s really common to see squirrels munching on peanuts and seeds, but that’s not the only thing they eat! Like another omnivore we’ve learned about (rats), they eat lots of different foods. Because the squirrels in Chicago have a lot more options available to them, it’s not surprising to see them eating whatever they can get their hands on, like food scraps humans throw in the garbage.
Teaching Tip: Learn how squirrels find and save food to survive in the cold winter woodland by playing a game from our educators. Click here for all the details!
Gray or fox?
Although there is some color variation in eastern gray squirrels, fox squirrels have a much more pronounced rust color. In fact, an easy way to tell the difference between the two is by looking at their stomachs. Gray squirrels have white fur, while fox squirrels have rust-colored fur. They also tend to live in different areas. Check out this video from WTTW, featuring our friend Joel Brown, for more info.
Guiding Question: Which squirrels do you think we see around the Nature Museum? Are they the same type of squirrels we see in our neighborhood? How can you tell?
Why don’t I see baby squirrels?
Have you seen baby squirrels? You probably have and you just didn’t realize it! Why? By the time squirrels leave the nest they are big enough to take care of themselves. So, they look like adults even though they may still be juveniles. Learn more by checking out our blog.
Teaching Tip: Want to practice your wildlife identification skills while also contributing to science? Check out Chicago Wildlife Watch! Help identify wildlife from all over Chicago. You’ll be helping scientists understand how animals like squirrels live in cities.
Do squirrels have camouflage?
Gray squirrels have great camouflage. It’s called countershading. Their heads, backs, and tails are darker, while their stomachs are white. This helps them blend in with their surroundings on multiple levels. A predator flying above and looking down on them won’t be able to distinguish them from the ground, branches, and tree trunks. Similarly, a predator looking up from below will have trouble differentiating their white fur from the sky.
Guiding Question: Do you think the squirrel in this picture blends in well with its surroundings? Why or why not? Imagine seeing it from far away. Would it be easier or harder to see? How do you think that helps the squirrel survive?
Squirrel Story Time!
Rebecca has the perfect story for today! It’s called “Squirrels Leap, Squirrels Sleep.” Click here to watch her read it in this special Story Time.
Teaching Tip: Take Story Time to the next level by using our graphic organizer. Click here to download it to guide your young scientist’s discussions during and after Story Time!
Behind the scenes!
Did you know that both squirrels and rats are rodents? Although we don’t have any squirrels living inside our Look-In Lab, we do have our rats, Terrance and Phillip! Here’s a fun behind-the-scenes shot of them in their cage!