Grey squirrel: Nose and tail

Imagine a dozen rats running around your yard during the day nibbling on anything they can find. You watch some of them run up a tree and onto a limb. Is your impulse to show your affection for these creatures by setting out food for them, or to get closer to them to see their darling little eyes better? Probably not. Would you call your state representative and lobby to get him (or her) to introduce a bill making these rodents the official mammal of your state? Maybe you would approach your mayor to get the city to dedicate a certain day each year to these critters? Its more likely you’d be inclined to find the meanest tomcat you could get your hands on, and hope he would do what comes natural to him in the company of all these creepy rats.

That may sound far-fetched and unthinkable, but what if you did some bioengineering on the rat and replaced that long, skinny, hairless tail with a bushy, bouncy tail? And then you replaced that long, pointed nose with one that gives a more rounded-off profile? Change the fur color a little; make a few other minor adjustments; and … voila! You just transformed that disgusting, dirty rat into the lovable and entertaining rodent we know as a squirrel. What a difference a nose and a tail make! Appearance is everything for a rodent!

The folks in Hinsdale, Ill., think so much of their squirrels that they set aside April 6 each year as squirrel day in their community. But how about an entire state? Could any state think so highly of their squirrels to adopt them as a state symbol? In the 1960s, the general assembly of North Carolina deliberated that very issue. During the discussion, one representative said, “The grey squirrel is thrifty. He buries nuts.” But another representative cautioned, “Any animal that buries nuts would be dangerous to this General Assembly.” Notwithstanding this valid observation, the bill passed anyway, and the squirrel was adopted by North Carolina as their official state mammal.

Here is some interesting information about these little furry critters. Like most rodents, the teeth of a squirrel grow throughout its lifetime, which may be from 3 to 9 years. The female squirrel may have two litters per year with one to three baby squirrels per litter. A squirrel will normally spend its entire life living in a 3- to 5-acre area, and a squirrel can smell an acorn through as much as one foot of snow. It seems grey squirrels produce a certain digestive enzyme that protects it from the harmful effects of the tannic acid found in acorns. Therefore, grey squirrels can eat all the acorns they want. However, red squirrels (a.k.a. fox squirrels) don’t have the same enzyme in their digestive system, and they can actually die from eating too many acorns. The hunting season for squirrels in Illinois goes from Aug. 1 to Feb. 15. That is 6.5 months to enjoy the challenge of hunting these little game animals. If you have never tasted a stew made with potatoes, carrots, corn, onions, beans, and squirrel meat, you don’t know what a delicious treat you’re missing.

This article was provided by the Illinois State Rifle Association. For more information about the association, call 635-3198 or visit

From the Aug. 30-Sept. 5, 2006, issue

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