Small Pets


Squirrel information

Squirrels are small to medium-sized rodents belonging to the family Sciuridae. In this family you will find a lot of different squirrels, such as tree squirrels, ground squirrels and flying squirrels. Ground and tree squirrels are usually day active, while flying squirrels tend to be nocturnal. Flying squirrels young enough to drink mother’s milk are however day active together with their mother during the summer.

Tree squirrels
Family:          Sciuridae
Subfamily:    Sciurinae
Tribe:             Sciurini

The term tree squirrel can refer to any tree-living member of the family Sciuridae, but is more commonly used to designate members of the tribe Sciurini only. This tribe contains most of the common, arboreal bushy-tailed squirrels of Europe, temperate Asia, and the Americas. Tree squirrels normally prefer trees and other tall structures to the ground, but if they need to spend time on the ground to get to suitable food sources they will.

Some of the most well-known members of this tribe are the Eurasian Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), and North American species like Eastern Gray Squirrel (S. carolinensis), Western Gray Squirrel (S. griseus), and American Red Squirrel Tamiasciurus hudsonicus.

Ground squirrels
Family:          Sciuridae
Subfamily:    Xerinae
Tribe:             Marmotini

Ground squirrels are comparatively large squirrels that spend most of their time on the ground – or in it. The chipmunks of the genus Tamias do however spend a lot of time in trees as well and are sometimes placed in a tribe of their own (Tamiini). In addition to chipmunks, some of the most well-known members of the ground squirrel group are the woodchucks and prairie dogs.

Ground squirrels can rise up on their hind legs and remain fully erect comfortably for prolonged periods, an adaptation that makes it possible for them to spot dangers at a distance even among tall grasses. Many species live in colonies where they establish complex social structures and if one of the colony members spot a danger it will curl its paws flat against its chest and emit a loud screeching call to warn the others.  

The largest species of ground squirrel is the Alpine Marmot (Marmota marmota) who can reach a length of over 70 cm (27 in) and weigh 5-8 kg (11-17.5 lbs).

Flying squirrels
Family:          Sciuridae
Subfamily:    Sciurinae
Tribe:             Pteromyini

For more information about flying squirrels, please visit our flying squirrel section. We also have a section about sugar gliders.

Flying squirrels are frequently confused with other small and furry animals capable of gliding through the air, such as the African scaly-tailed squirrels (who aren’t squirrels), the South-East Asian flying lemurs (who aren’t lemurs), and the wrist winged glider animals of Australia and New Guinea of which the most prominent member is the popular Sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps).

Squirrel taxonomy                                 

Kingdom:      Animalia
Phylum:         Chordata
Class:            Mammalia
Order:           Rodentia
Family:          Sciuridae

Squirrel care

Since there are so many different species of squirrel with vastly different requirements, it is always best to seek species or at least group specific information regarding squirrel care.

Squirrel feeding

The feeding habits of squirrels vary depending on species and habitat, so it is important to obtain species or at least group specific information if you keep a captive squirrel.

Ground and tree squirrels
Ground and tree squirrels can’t digest cellulose and must therefore eat foods rich in protein, carbohydrates and fat. They feed chiefly on vegetable matter, such as nuts, seeds, fruits, conifer cones, bulbs, and buds. Quite a few species will however happily supplement their vegetarian diet with meat, especially during parts of the year when vegetable food is scarce. Squirrels have been observed eating animals such as snakes, rodents, and small birds and they are also fond of eggs.

In temperate parts of the world, many squirrel species store nuts and seeds by hiding them underground. Spring is usually the most difficult part of the year for these squirrels since their secret storages begin to sprout while the landscape is still quite barren. Fortunately for the squirrel, there is usually quite a lot of tree buds at this point. Another problem for nut hiding squirrels are birds, especially crows. Birds are known to observe where squirrels hide their food and then dig it up and devour it when the squirrel isn’t around.   

Squirrel breeding

The breeding behaviour of squirrels varies from species to species.

Squirrel health

Before getting a pet squirrel, ideally check if you have a veterinarian in your area with any previous experience in providing squirrel health care for your intended species.

Squirrel facts

Squirrel fact # 1
Squirrels pose almost zero risk of transmitting rabies to pets and humans.

Squirrel fact # 2
Squirrels have brought down the high-tech NASDAQ stock market twice by cutting off its electricity supply.

Squirrel facts # 3
Many species of squirrel have learned to take advantage of human encroachment on their habitat and can for instance be seen scavenging or soliciting food in gardens, parks and on university campuses. They can be thought to accept food directly out of the hand of a human and are also quite clever when it comes to figuring out how bird feeders – even so called squirrel proof ones – work. Man made structures such as uninhabited attics, basements and storage sheds can also provide squirrels with shelter.  

Squirrel facts # 4

The English word squirrel is derived from the Old French term escurel and entered English via the Anglo-Norman word esquirel. Esquirel hails from the Latin word sciurus which in turn was borrowed from the Greek. In Greek, σκιουρος (skiouros) means shadow-tailed, alluding to how some squirrels use their tail to shade their whole body. The first known use of the word squirrel in English is from 1327. The Old English word for these animals is ācweorna. It survived into Middle English as aquerna, but gradually fell out of use due to the Anglo-Norman influence. The Old English word ācweorna is of Common Germanic origin and bares a striking resemblance to names still used in Germanic languages up to the present day. The squirrel is for instance known as ekorre in Swedish, ekorn in Norwegian, and Eichhorn or Eichhörnchen in German.

Squirrel facts # 5
“Save a red, eat a gray!” is a slogan used by a national Save Our Squirrels campaign urging UK citizens to help their native Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) by eating the invasive Eastern Grey Squirrel (S. carolinensis) which has displaced the Red Squirrel throughout a large part of Britain. Today, Red Squirrels can only be found in Scotland and in England Formby, the Lake District and the Isle of Wight.  

The Eastern Grey Squirrel is native to eastern and mid-western United States but was introduced to several European countries during the 19th century. Grey squirrels act as vectors for the Squirrel parapoxvirus; a virus deadly to Red Squirrels but to which the Grey Squirrel has developed a very high level of resistance.   

Squirrel lifespan

The lifespan of squirrels vary from species to species.


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