Monday, 25 February 2013

In The Shadow of His Tail

We can not possibly know about every living thing on this earth. Nor do we need to know. So why are we drawn to the exotics when there are animals in our own back yards that we give no more than a cursory glance? How much do you know about the most common animals in your neighborhood?  I wonder how many delights we miss because we are so used to seeing them.
"I will sit still and let the marvels and the adventures settle on me like flies. There are plenty of them I assure you. The world will never starve for want of wonders, but only for want of wonder." G.K. Chesterton
One of these non-exotics I have decided to spend a little more time examining is the squirrel. The only thing I knew is that they nest and play in my backyard and that there are grey ones and black ones.

Do you know the difference between the two? Apparently there is no difference, they are the same thing.   "Indeed, many people believe that black squirrels are a separate species rather than a colour phase of the grey. In fact, his colouring may be grey, dark brown or black, red-brown, or pure white, but his most common colouring is grey or black.

Grey or Black Squirrel, the scientific name, Sciurus carolinensis, refers both to his plume-like tail, and the locality where he was first identified. Sciurus comes from the Greek and means "creature who sits in the shadow of his tail":, while carolinensis is the Latinized name for the original state of Carolina.

The halo effect of their tail is created by silver-tipped guard hairs.

The grey squirrel moults twice each year; in spring and in autumn.  All his fur is replaced in the spring moult, which commences at his head; the autumn moult moves in the opposite direction, and excludes his tail."

I spent a few hours watching this one squirrel eat seeds and proceed to engage in a lengthy cleaning regiments every ten minutes or so. I was amazed at his flexibility and thoroughness.

I picked up this wonderful book because I was beginning to realize I was missing out on the wonders right outside my own door: The Squirrels of Canada by S.E. Woods, Jr. where the 1980 edition has a wonderful drawing on the cover by Jan Sharkey Thomas.


  1. Ooh! Creature who sits in the shadow of his tail. I love that. Thank you. You've provided inspiration for a nature notebook entry AND a book recommendation. We've been spending a lot of time watching grey squirrels perform amazing acrobatic feats at our bird feeder. One did a perfect somersault around a tree branch. I can't wait to read more about them.

  2. "Sits in the shadow of his tail"! What a much lovelier name!

    Two thoughts: Pamela still talks about a squirrel that lives down the street. It has no tail! We've sometimes wondered how it lost its tail.

    There are truly black squirrels. They are called Abert squirrels and they live in ponderosa pines in the Rockies. I loved watching them when we lived in Colorado.

  3. Wow. Thanks for this. You do not write a lot, but when you do, you delight and inform us much!

    And walking, you have seen black squirrels! When we read about the Albert squirrel in our Burgess Book of Animals, we only got to watch them in a You Tube video.

    The word squirrel sounds fascinating to me, a learner of English as a second language (now a second adopted mother tongue).

    My daughters befriended and adopted one at our last camping trip, Timmy. They pledged to call all other squirrels Timmy, after all, they will be relatives, they said. They fed Timmy a peanut from their hands.

  4. Sandy, I have taken some great acrobatic shots of a wily squirrel at our bird feeder. They fascinate me. Better than TV!

  5. Tammy, I wonder what the 'locals' are like in each of our areas. Yours might be exotics to me.

  6. Silvia,
    I love the word squirrel and also how it is spelled. It seems to suit the animal.

    It must have been delightful for your daughters to meet 'Timmy' and to think that they will meet his relatives throughout their lives, what fun!