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The Animal Answer Guide

Richard W. Thorington, Jr., and Katie E. Ferrell

Publication Year: 2006

Did you know that a groundhog is really a type of squirrel? That squirrels control their body temperature with their tails? That most squirrels have yellow-tinted eye lenses that work like sunglasses to reduce glare? That tree squirrels can turn their hind feet completely around when climbing down a tree head-first? In Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide, Richard W. Thorington Jr. and Katie Ferrell unveil the fascinating world of one of the "most watched" mammals on the planet. The diversity of squirrels is astounding. There are 278 species that inhabit all continents except Antarctica and Australia—varying in size from the lumbering 18-pound gray marmot to the graceful pygmy flying squirrel that is smaller than most mice. In many parts of the world they readily share human habitats, joining us for lunch in a city park, raiding our bird feeders, and sneaking into college dorm rooms through open windows. Reviled as pests or loved as an endearing amusement, squirrels have played important roles in trade, literature, and mythology. Thorington and Ferrell cover every aspect of this diverse animal family, from the first squirrels of 36 million years ago to the present day. With over one hundred photographs and an intuitive question-and-answer format, this authoritative and engaging guide sheds light on a common mammal that is anything but commonplace.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: The Animal Answer Guides: Q&A for the Curious Naturalist

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi

Many persons have shared and encouraged our enthusiasm for the study of squirrels. We would like to thank them all, but we must restrict our acknowledgments to those who have played special roles. These include Thorington’s mentors in graduate school, Charles Lyman and Ernst Mayr, who directed him into the field of mammalogy, and...

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pp. xiii-xv

In the late afternoon, Thorington and his host drove to a shrine on the outskirts of Tokyo. They walked up a broad, well-maintained path from the parking lot into the shrine. Above them were magnificent old Japanese cedars, the famed cryptomeria trees; the understory consisted of maples and a variety of other trees that Thorington did not...

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1 Introducing Squirrels

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pp. 1-24

Squirrels are among the most widely known and recognized mammals, inhabiting all continents except Antarctica and Australia. In many parts of the world they occupy human habitats, gladly sharing our lunches in a city park, helping to empty our bird feeders, or feeding on our crops. Squirrels belong to a family of rodents, the Sciuridae, whose common...

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2 Form and Function

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pp. 25-37

The largest squirrels are the marmots (Marmota), which accordingly can be called “the giant ground squirrels.” In North America, the best known are the yellow-bellied marmot of the Rocky Mountains and the woodchuck of the eastern United States and Canada, which is the proverbial “groundhog” of February 2. The largest of all is the gray marmot found...

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3 Coat Color and Squirrel Genetics

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pp. 38-47

If you are in the eastern United States, it is probably the melanistic form of the eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). The black color morph of the eastern gray squirrel occurs most commonly in northern latitudes, but it has been introduced into more southern areas across the United States and has established itself successfully on college campuses...

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4 Squirrel Behavior

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pp. 48-68

Ground squirrels. Among the most social of the squirrels are certain species of ground squirrels, marmots, and prairie dogs. Gail Michener, of the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, has been studying ground squirrels for 37 years, and has identified five grades of social organization among the ground squirrels: asocial, single-family kin clusters, female...

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5 Squirrel Ecology

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pp. 69-91

As we mentioned in the first chapter, squirrels live in an extraordinarily diverse range of habitats, from rain forests to deserts and valleys to high mountains. Within these habitats, all squirrels require a safe place to sleep, to give birth to and raise young, and to take shelter from inclement weather and...

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6 Reproduction and Development

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pp. 92-101

Reproduction in tree and flying squirrels. For many tree squirrels and flying squirrels, courtship involves a mating chase. One to many males are attracted to an estrous female by several different cues, including her vocalizations, behavior, and odor. In female eastern gray squirrels estrus lasts only one day. As males congregate near the female, they...

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7 Foods and Feeding

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pp. 102-113

“Practically everything” would be the glib answer to this question. Anyone who has observed squirrels in a backyard or city park knows that the stereotypic image of a squirrel eating only nuts is not the complete picture. Squirrels do not have a reputation for being discriminating and given the opportunity seem to eat almost anything—including candy bars, chicken...

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8 Squirrels and Humans

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pp. 114-123

As our selection of this quote suggests, we think that squirrels do not make good pets. We prefer animals that can be housebroken, do not bite when patted, and are not destructive. If you search the Internet, you will fi nd many persons who disagree with us, and you will fi nd instructions for maintaining squirrels in captivity. Before seriously considering...

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9 Squirrel Problems (from a human viewpoint)

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pp. 124-130

Bark stripping is common practice among many temperate tree squirrels and some ground squirrels. Squirrels strip away the top layer of the bark to get to the sweet, phloem tissue underneath. This occurs most commonly in early summer and can be fatal to trees, either by killing them outright or by making them susceptible to infestation by insects...

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10 Human Problems (from a squirrel’s viewpoint)

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pp. 131-140

Yes, some species of squirrels are definitely endangered, while other species definitely are not. Habitat loss is perhaps the most important factor contributing to the decline of squirrel populations around the world. Forests and grasslands are disappearing to make way for farming, grazing, and human development. Although some species of squirrels...

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11 Squirrels in Stories and Literature

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pp. 141-151

Squirrels are incorporated into religious stories and myths, usually for two reasons. One is to promote a moral, and the other is to explain something, usually about the squirrel itself. In the Indian epic, the Ramayana, a squirrel is depicted as assisting in the construction of a bridge from India to Sri Lanka, in preparation for the invasion to free Sita, Rama’s...

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12 “Squirrelology”

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pp. 152-156

A great deal of information is available about the common North American squirrels. The eastern gray squirrel and the eastern fox squirrel are game animals, hunted in many areas, so a large literature exists on both species, dealing with game management. There is a whole book by Durward Allen, Michigan Fox Squirrel Management, for example, and...


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pp. 157-164


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pp. 165-177


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pp. 179-182

E-ISBN-13: 9780801889080
E-ISBN-10: 0801889081
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801884030
Print-ISBN-10: 0801884039

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 38 color illustrations, 74 halftones, 4 line illustrations
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: The Animal Answer Guides: Q&A for the Curious Naturalist