Celebrating Squirrel Appreciation Day: The Ecological Importance of Squirrels

Celebrating Squirrel Appreciation Day: The ecological importance of squirrels.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Celebrating Squirrel Appreciation Day: The ecological importance of squirrels. Image: Unsplash

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Celebrating Squirrel Appreciation Day: The ecological importance of squirrels

January 21 is Squirrel Appreciation Day, a day to learn more about these tree-living creatures and to admire their resilience in the wild. There are over 200 species of squirrels in the world, living in almost every habitat, from tropical rainforests to semiarid desserts, so you likely have crossed paths with one.

If you have a garden or have potted plants on your balcony, you’ve probably seen a squirrel poking around looking for a good place to hide their nuts, taking a bite out of your veggies, or even stealing food from the bird feeders. Squirrels typically have a bad reputation, and I’m sure you’ve tried every humane trick in the book to get them to stay away.

But squirrels play important roles in our environment, and we should appreciate them every day of the year. The reason is that squirrels might be better gardeners than we are, as they contribute to the growth of plants and trees.

During the fall, squirrels will collect seeds, nuts, and other food items to ensure that they have enough nutrients to survive the winter. The squirrels will often gather more than they can consume right away. They decide to bury the extra food in the ground for later consumption. These tiny animals will dig small holes, bury their seeds, and then cover the holes with soil. Prior to burying the seed, the squirrel will rub its face on it to mark its scent, which will help increase the chances of them finding it.

While most of what they bury will eventually get eaten, the squirrels may not always remember where they’ve buried their food. If undisturbed, the seeds will be left buried. What ends up happening is that the forgotten or uncollected seeds might germinate and grow into new plants, which is incredibly important for forest regeneration and biodiversity.

Oak trees and squirrels are known to have a symbiotic relationship. Oak trees provide squirrels with food from their acorns, which squirrels will bury once they are done with them. Interestingly, at the top of the acorns, there are more tasty fats which the squirrel will eat. Once the squirrels reach the bottom, they are met with a bitter taste, which happens to have the acorn’s embryo, which is the part that grows and essentially is the part that will be buried. Moreover, acorns that have more tannins (which makes them bitter taste), such as red acorns, will have a higher chance of being buried.

Squirrels will also triage the acorns and nuts and bury the good nuts they find because they are more likely to be viable food sources later in the winter. The acorns will grow if they are planted further away from the oak tree, as there is less of a chance of the parent tree blocking out the sun from the new plant. Sometimes a squirrel will bury the acron far away from where they found it and not come back for it which causes more trees to grow. And more oak trees means more food for squirrels.

In order to celebrate Squirrel Appreciation Day, many organizations take the opportunity to raise awareness about squirrels’ threats, such as habitat loss, diseases, and climate change. Other ways to celebrate include:

  • Leaving food out for squirrels (make sure to research what the best food to feed squirrels is)
  • Sit outside and watch their playful behavior.
  • Celebrate Squirrel Appreciation Day.
  • Learn more about squirrels by watching documentaries or visiting natural history museums.
  • Share your favorite squirrel story on your social media platforms and help bring awareness to squirrels.

However you choose to celebrate, it is a great opportunity to show your appreciation for these unique animals and everything they do for our environment.

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