North American squirrels have a range of strategies for coping with the summer heat. While some species like to hide away, others find innovative ways to stay cool and beat the warm weather. When temperatures rise, what tricks do squirrels use to survive?
North American squirrels beat the summer heat with adaptive behaviors including nest-building, seeking shade, and vocalizations. Their fruit-rich diets help them stay hydrated, while efficient energy use ensures survival and reproductive success.
Squirrels face a set of unique challenges during the summer months. This article examines their clever strategies for coping with the heat and hot weather, revealing why they act differently when the temperatures rise.
Types Of North American Squirrels
North America is home to many species of squirrels, including the Eastern grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), fox squirrel (Sciurus niger), southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans), and Douglas squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii). Each species has its characteristics and behavior, but they all share the same basic needs.
North America’s forests and woodlands are home to the highly adaptive Eastern grey squirrel, with its signature gray or brown coat and long bushy tail. These diurnal mammals thrive on acorns, nuts, and seeds.
The Red squirrel is a diurnal creature, preferring the cool air of morning and evening to go in search of their nourishment. They can be found foraging through coniferous forests for nuts, seeds, and berries as they build their nests within tree cavities using reddish-brown fur.
The fox squirrel is the largest of its kind, with a unique reddish-brown coat with bright white underbellies. Active during daylight hours, they are most commonly spotted in open woodlands, where they feast on nuts and fruits or scavenge for fungi.
The Southern flying squirrel is a small nocturnal animal, distinguishable from its larger eastern grey family member by its coat of muted greys and browns. With the mature forests as their home, you can see them in action while they scurry through trees searching for nuts, fruits, and fungi that form part of their varied diet. They often prefer nesting high up within tree cavities where they can safely sleep during daylight hours
Douglas squirrels are the smallest North American squirrels and are identifiable by their unique brown coats featuring white & black markings. During the day, they can be spotted eating nuts, seeds, and berries, usually residing in coniferous forests with nests built inside tree cavities.
North American squirrels have adapted well and live in various environments, from woodlands to deserts and everything in between. They are also known for thriving near humans, and have even been spotted close to bustling city centers.
Woodlands and forests offer squirrels multiple benefits, from providing nesting sites in tree hollows to supplying a variety of food. Nuts and berries are often found among the undergrowth they inhabit.
Squirrels are well-adapted to environments of all types, but they require water. They can often be seen around the banks of ponds, lakes, and rivers.
North American squirrels change their diets as the seasons change. In summer, they feed on insects, nuts, and berries while in spring change to buds, shoots, and flowers.
Squirrels are excellent at finding food throughout the year, but summer is when they find the most food. While they often rely on bird feeders, summer provides them with more fresh food than the other seasons.
In summer, squirrels have a varied diet that primarily consists of:
- Nuts and Seeds: Squirrels are known for their love of nuts and seeds. During the summer, they may feed on seeds from various plants, including sunflower seeds, pine seeds, and acorns. They also consume tree nuts like walnuts and hazelnuts.
- Fruits: Squirrels enjoy a variety of fruits that are in season during the summer months. This can include berries, apples, cherries, peaches, and plums. They may also raid bird feeders for seeds and fruits.
- Vegetation: Squirrels are not strictly carnivorous; they also eat plant material. In the summer, they may nibble on leaves, flowers, and tender shoots from a wide range of plants and trees.
- Insects: Squirrels are omnivorous and will occasionally eat insects, including grasshoppers, caterpillars, and insect larvae when they come across them.
- Fungi: Some squirrels incorporate fungi, like mushrooms, into their diet, especially during the summer when fungi are more abundant.
- Bird Eggs: While not a primary food source, squirrels are opportunistic and may raid bird nests to eat eggs or nestlings.
Squirrels exhibit several specific behaviors and adaptations during the summer months:
- Nesting: Female squirrels build nests, called dreys, to protect and raise their young. These nests are often constructed in the branches of trees and consist of leaves, twigs, and other materials. In the summer, you might see increased nest-building activity.
- Foraging: Squirrels are active foragers year-round, but during the summer, their diet may shift to include more fruits, berries, and tender plant shoots that are abundant during this season. They take advantage of the increased food availability.
- Food Storage: Some squirrel species engage in caching food for the winter months. While they also store food during other seasons, summer is a time when they might focus on hoarding perishable items like fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Increased Activity: Squirrels are generally more active during daylight hours in the summer, which allows them to gather food, care for their young, and engage in social interactions with other squirrels.
- Vocalizations: Squirrels are known for their chattering and vocalizations, which can be more frequent in the summer. These vocalizations are used for communication, including warning calls about potential predators.
- Escape Behavior: Summer is a season of increased activity for many predators as well. Squirrels are vigilant about avoiding threats from animals like hawks, foxes, and domestic pets. They may engage in rapid escape behaviors, including running and leaping through trees.
- Thermoregulation: Squirrels have to manage their body temperature, and in the summer, this can involve seeking shade, spreading their limbs to cool down, and panting to dissipate heat.
- Grooming: Squirrels are meticulous groomers and may spend more time cleaning themselves during the summer months, which helps maintain their fur and keep them cool.
- Social Interactions: Squirrels are social animals to some extent, and summer can be a time for increased interactions among individuals, whether it’s mating behavior or playful interactions among young squirrels.
Adaptations For Summer
North American squirrels have several ways to help them survive the summer heat. To stay cool and hydrated, they need to manage their body temperature. This can involve seeking shade, spreading their limbs to cool down, and panting to dissipate heat.
In summer, squirrels rely upon a nutrient-rich diet filled with fruits and vegetables such as nuts, berries, and seed pods. This robust menu is further supplemented by insects, eggs, and even the occasional bird or small mammal. A diet full of fiber helps them stay hydrated.
Squirrels have uniquely adapted their paws to allow them to climb trees in the search for food. The soft fur covering the feet provides an extra layer of protection from rough surfaces.
Squirrels become more active during daylight hours to maximize their foraging and reproductive opportunities. They often adjust their daily routines to take advantage of the longer daylight.
Despite their increased activity, squirrels are efficient energy conservers. They strategically allocate energy to ensure their survival and reproductive success during the summer.
Summer is a season of increased activity for many predators as well. Squirrels are vigilant about avoiding threats from animals like hawks, foxes, and domestic pets. They may engage in rapid escape behaviors, including running and leaping through trees.
Squirrels are known for their chattering and vocalizations, which can be more frequent in the summer. These vocalizations are used for communication, including warning calls about potential predators.
Nesting Habits In Summer
As the days become longer and warmer, squirrels can be found constructing spherical nests known as dreys. These nests are meticulously made of interwoven leaves, twigs, mosses, feathers, and fur for insulation. They can be found on strong branches high up in trees away from predators. Dreys have a diameter roughly equivalent to that of a basketball.
The dreys provide protection from ground-level predators, such as snakes and mammals, and offer insulation against both the summer heat and potential adverse weather conditions.
The nests are also shelters to nurture and protect their litters of up to eight young. Once the babies have grown strong enough, family life in the nest ends and they leave their parents behind.
References And Further Reading
Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide by Richard W. Thorington Jr. and Katie Ferrell.
North American Tree Squirrels by Michael A. Steele and John L. Koprowski
National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals by Jr. John. O. Whitaker
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.