The squirrel belongs to the Sciuridae family, which includes all small and medium-sized rodents. You will find many species even within the squirrel family, such as the tree squirrel, marmots, chipmunks, ground squirrels, and prairie dogs. And, not one out of any of these lays eggs.
Do squirrels lay eggs? No, squirrels do not lay eggs. Squirrels are mammals and they give birth to live young. The only egg-laying mammals are the platypus and the echidna.
The reason some people believe squirrels lay eggs is usually that it’s rare to see baby squirrels and some subspecies are known to make nests like birds. However, you must understand how the misconception that squirrels lay eggs may have come about.
Why Do People Believe That Squirrels Lay Eggs?
Two years ago, paleontologists Eve Hoffman and Tim Rowe found evidence that a protomammal called Kayentatherium laid eggs. This weasel-looking protomammal is related to the earliest mammal and lived 185 million years ago.
Now, the sheer size of offspring found at a single site led paleontologists to believe that these synapsids did lay eggs. Yet, there has been little evidence other than this discovery to support their findings.
However, when it comes to squirrels, the simple reason people think squirrels lay eggs is that one never actually gets to see their young. The mama squirrel is known to be quite protective of her young.
And, it isn’t until the young squirrel is fully furred that the female squirrels allow their young anywhere close to the outside world.
Squirrels also make fairly complex nests that look a lot like birds’ nests in order to have a safe place to raise their kits. This can lead people to mistakenly believe that squirrels also lay eggs like birds.
The Secret Life Of Squirrels
Squirrels don’t mate for life. Yet, squirrels are a sight to look at during the mating season. You see, squirrels make incredible flirts and can be pretty hilarious to watch with their courting antics.
Both male and female squirrels can have multiple partners during a mating season. At around 10-12 weeks, the female squirrels become fertile.
When these females are ready to mate or approaching estrus, they emit a strong scent and vocalizations that alert eligible squirrels in the vicinity to come around. Surprisingly enough, the smell is so strong that it can attract male squirrels from a 500-meter radius.
But, in most cases, there is usually more than one contender. Hence, a battle of sorts ensues between the suitors that may involve chasing the competition away, jumping from branch to branch in a show of agility, guarding the female’s territory to avoid evasion from another male, or even a downright attack from the back when a male is getting intimate with his chosen mate.
But, it is the female that makes a choice. Now, the choice can be on the basis of dominance, size, strength, or even maturity. Only when the female squirrel is sure of the selection does she chase and allow the male squirrel to mate. The female squirrel can mate multiple times with multiple mates over the course of two days to several weeks.
When the mating is over, the male goes on the hunt for a new partner, and the female becomes the caregiver to the babies. Males are always in heat, while female squirrels only become fertile once or twice a year.
There’s no saying why male squirrels behave the way they do. It’s one of the many quirks of nature. However, another interesting facet of nature among squirrels is that they don’t mate with their siblings. In most cases, squirrels can tell if they are related, and if they are, there can be no mating between them.
And, the one time you do see the squirrel family come together is in the cold winter season when it is simply too cold for the squirrels to be sleeping in empty nests. That is the only time when you find squirrels hugging and cuddling together.
No Mommy Like A Squirrel Mommy
You can’t say that a female squirrel carries her young for nine months in her belly like humans. Yet, squirrels have two litters in a year and hardly live up to 5-10 years.
So, the female squirrel puts a significant part of her life in rearing her young in her own right. On average, the gestation period of squirrels is 38 days, and the litter can be from two to five babies at a time. However, there have been reports of nine babies in a squirrel litter too.
The birthing takes place in the female’s nest. The female makes it a point to build more than one nest. And, it is also her job to ensure that each nest will be strong enough to survive an attack from a predator. The nest needs to be built to protect the young from the elements as well.
A squirrel uses interwoven twigs to build a base laced with leaves and soft materials such as wool or even paper to provide insulation.
And then, another layer of interwoven twigs is added to make the nest stand the test of time. Now, squirrels don’t move their babies from one nest to the other unless there is reasonable cause. But, it is apparent that a female squirrel has amazing maternal instincts, as she is responsible for feeding the babies.
The female squirrels will collect extra food for the winter months; it is also the mother who will transport the babies to another nest if the one inhabited becomes infested with fleas or is attacked by predators. And, she is also the one to train her young with the skills that the babies will need to survive the world outside the nest.
And, above all, it is by the overprotective skills of the female squirrels that one rarely comes across a baby squirrel. Hence, the myth that squirrels indeed must have eggs hidden away in the trees.
Many animal lovers find squirrels adorable and often are unable to resist the urge to feed them. But, it is always a smart idea to become knowledgeable about a species that you have taken a liking to and intend to care for.
So, you can read on to find answers to some of the commonly asked questions that puzzle many squirrel fans.
Is It Okay To Feed Squirrels Human Food?
That’s possibly the worst thing you can do to your squirrel friend. Most human food contains sugar, sodium, or dairy. Foods like trail mix, chocolate, and chips can be detrimental to your squirrel’s health. All of these items can adversely affect humans in the long run.
Now, when you consider the size of a squirrel and think about its digestive tract, it’s neither big enough to sustain the damage nor equipped to deal with such substances.
Hence, do your squirrel friend a favor and feed it nothing if you have human food. But, if you want to give your four-legged friend a leg up for the approaching winter, then acorns and nuts such as walnuts, pecans, and almonds are all good choices.
Yet, it would be wise to limit the quantity you provide, as these nuts are quite fattening. And, many animal experts claim that a fat squirrel in the wild is a dead squirrel.
You see, squirrels don’t have any defense mechanisms to save themselves from predators. Instead, their best weapon is their speed and agility. So, it’s best to give your squirrel food that is part of its natural diet. And that too in moderation.
How Smart Are Squirrels?
You’d be amazed at the intelligence of some animals. Squirrels don’t have the intelligence of dolphins, but these little rodents can have you running around in circles.
You see, squirrels don’t have sharp eyesight. But, they have an excellent sense of smell and hearing. They communicate with each other not only to flirt but to give each other warning of approaching danger too.
Squirrels are the kind of creatures that are well aware of their shortcomings; they move with extreme caution. They never take unnecessary risks and prepare well in advance. That is the reason why the female squirrel builds more than one nest. In addition, the female squirrel prepares for any unforeseen eventualities of the future.
Another evident sign of high intellect in squirrels is that they make up false food stashes. For example, they dig up spots on the ground or use holes in trees to pretend to hide their food.
The idea of keeping bogus food in these burial spaces is to make the onlookers, such as predators or other squirrels, believe that this is their actual food hiding spot. But, the real food stash is safely hidden in another site.
If you’re not convinced of their intelligence yet, you’ll be amazed at this squirrel maze video from Mark Rober on YouTube where squirrels use their skills in agility, memory, and planning ahead to get to their food.
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