25 fascinating facts

All you need to know about red squirrels 

 25 fascinating facts

1. The red squirrel first appeared 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age, when the land between Britain and Europe began to disappear.

2. Red squirrels are strong swimmers.

3. Red squirrels like to look after their teeth by gnawing on pieces of dead deer antler, which are full of calcium.

4. Scotland used to be so covered with trees that it is said that a red squirrel could have journeyed from its West to East coast without touching the ground. Male red squirrels each hold territories about the size of 34 football pitches.

5. Study the patterns left on a nibbled pinecone to discover whether it's been eaten by a left or right-handed squirrel. Left-handed squirrels hold the cone with the top towards the left and use the left hand to rotate the cone, and right-handed squirrels do the opposite.

6. In Finland "squirrel pelts" were used as a currency before coins were introduced. Oravannakka, or "squirrel pelt" is still used there as an expression for money.

7. Tree seeds, fungi, berries, birds' eggs and even sap are eaten by red squirrels. They love hazelnuts but have trouble digesting acorns, unlike grey squirrels, who love them.

8. In the original fairytale, Cinderella's slippers were made of red squirrel pelt. The French vair (fur) became verre (glass).

9. A red squirrel's tail is used for balance, communication, to slow them down when jumping and as a snuggly blanket.

10. Red squirrels rotate their ears to pick up sounds, and possibly also to express themselves - like dogs.

11. Squirrels make more than one drey (nest) to confuse predators and in case one gets damaged. They will abandon a drey if it is too full of fleas.

12. Fungi may be taken to the drey to dry out, and, because red squirrels don't hibernate, they bury other leftover food in holes or crevices to be eaten when food is scarce.

13. Red squirrels can jump more than 2m and survive a fall of more than 12m without injury.

14. Red squirrels have four fingers on each paw, plus a vestigial thumb, and five toes. Their double-jointed ankles allow them to go down a tree headfirst.

15. Squirrels have no fixed partners and mate between February and March and again between June and July.

16. Pregnancies last between 38-39 days and result in an average of 3-4 "kittens". In a good year, red squirrels may have 3 litters - that's up to 12 kittens.

17. Only 1 in 6 red squirrels survives past their first birthday. Born blind, without hair or teeth, they are susceptible to disease and attacks from carnivores and birds of prey.

18. Squirrels have an exceptionally good sense of smell. They can find buried food underneath a foot of snow and know if a nut is rotten without opening it.

19. Red squirrel coats range from light orange to almost black and are shed twice a year, turning thicker and darker in winter. The pictures below are all of 'red squirrels'!

20. Squirrelpox is a deadly virus transmitted by grey squirrels, but which only affects red squirrels. There is evidence, however, that some reds are also developing immunity to it.

21. Red and grey squirrels cannot breed together.

22. Fully-grown male squirrels can have bodies of 20-22cm and tails of 17-18cm. They weigh between 250-300g and add about 12% to their body weight in autumn to prepare for winter.

23. Red squirrels live an average of three years, although they have been known to live up to 10 years in captivity.

24. In Norse mythology, Ratatoskr is a red squirrel who spreads gossip up and down the world tree, between the eagle and worm.

25. The Latin name for a red squirrel is Sciurus Vulgaris, meaning 'common squirrel'.