The squirrels are at it again. They are up to activities that I’ve never read about in nature books. Right this moment a section of my yard is covered in pieces of tree bark. Above, several thin branches have been stripped bare and point to the sky like large, bony arms stretching upward in surrender.
The skinning of the trees began four days ago. I noticed it when I stepped outside for some fresh air and something fell on my head. I reacted in the natural way–with a gasp and vocalized, “Aaaaa!” and I reached a hand to my head to brush off whatever had fallen. I noticed then that it was a strip of bark, and that many similar pieces littered the ground before me. I looked up into the trees.
Perched on a thin twig high above the ground was a common eastern fox squirrel. I watched as he pulled a strip of bark, chewed on it for a moment, and then cast it aside with a flick of his tiny squirrel wrist. He turned to the tree branch and stripped off another piece. A squirrel on a neighboring branch was doing the same. With the puzzle of the fallen bark solved, I went back inside.
At around eight that evening I went outside again to check out the squirrels’ progress, but they had stopped and were nowhere to be seen. The next day it was the same. They worked most of the day and then before eight they were gone. Apparently they have a pre-selected stopping time; that is the time when they grab their little squirrel lunch pails, clock out, and go home to watch squirrel television or something.
Intrigued, because I have an inquisitive mind or because I am just very easily amused, I asked a few friends about my squirrels’ funny behavior. Why in the world were they stripping the trees? Most just laughed and said they had no idea why squirrels would do that. One person suggested they might be gathering supplies for a nest. I told her that could be, but if so they were not doing a very good job of it; the building materials were all over the ground and becoming sodden and filthy.
I wondered if the squirrels were eating insects off the bark; I had never heard of squirrels eating insects, but decided to do some research to find out. I learned that squirrels will eat insects if other food sources are not available. I also learned, much to my surprise, that squirrels will sometimes eat bird eggs and baby birds.
Other interesting facts about squirrels:
Squirrels require nearly two pounds of food per week.
There are over 300 kinds of squirrels in the world.
Excited squirrels have sweaty feet (like many other animals, including cats and dogs, they have sweat glands in their feet).
During my squirrel studies, I also came upon a very scary possibility. My squirrels might not be stripping bark just for normal squirrelly reasons; they could be involved in a terrible criminal plot. According to scarysquirrel.org, squirrels seek world dominance and will stop at nothing to get it! I had no idea.
Finally, a friend from England stepped in. She had just found out that squirrels in England sometimes eat fungi off of bark. Could it be that my Kansas squirrels were merely on a quest for fungi? We have had a terribly wet spring here and I know that fungi abound. I knew that must be it. My squirrels are not eating insects or engaging in world domination, one tree branch at a time. My squirrels are snacking on delicious fungi.