Squirrels (Eastern Gray Squirrel and Fox Squirrel)
Family:Sciuridae (squirrels) in the order Rodentia
Among the members of the Squirrel Family living in Missouri, the Eastern gray and fox squirrels are the most common. Their common names are descriptive of the general coat color-the grayish of one, and the "reddish fox" coloration of the other.
Size:The gray squirrel varies in length from 14-21 inches (355-533 mm) and in weight from 3/4-1 1/2 pounds (340-680 g); the fox squirrel is generally larger, having a length from 19-29 inches (482-736 mm) and a weight from l-3 pounds (453-1,360 g).
Habitat and conservation:A squirrel's home is a leafy nest located in a cavity or fork of a tree. The grays are more common in the smaller bottomlands and the "foxes" along the higher ridges. In the prairie regions of the state, fox squirrels are found along the few remaining Osage orange hedge fences, in farm woodlots, along timbered fence rows and in timbered draws. Both species also live in urban areas, especially where large oak and hickory trees are common.
Foods:The foods of squirrels are varied; of 100 different species of plants eaten, only a few comprise the important staple sources. These are nuts; fruits and buds of hickory, pecan, walnut, elm and mulberry trees and field corn. The importance of acorn and nut crops is shown by the fluctuations in squirrel numbers following years of good or bad mast production. These staple, winter foods have an important influence on the physical condition of the females which must produce next year's young.
Distribution in Missouri:Both of these rodents occur throughout Missouri, but the gray squirrel is more abundant in the Ozark and Mississippi lowland regions, while the fox squirrel is more common in the northern and western prairies.
Life cycle:The mating periods for gray squirrels begins in late December or early January and again from late May to early July. Pregnancy requires about 45 days. Most litters are born in February or March, and July or August. One to eight young comprise a litter, but two or three are most common. The young are hairless at birth, have their eyes and ears closed, and possess well developed claws. They come out of the nest for the first time when 6 to 7 weeks old, and in another week or so are weaned.
Human connections:From 1 1/2 million to three million squirrels are taken annually in Missouri. Squirrels furnish a large supply of meat each year for Missouri hunters. Squirrels provide considerable pleasure for city dwellers who observe them around their homes and in parks.