Just when you thought we had some down time between New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day, here's something worth putting on your Google calendar: on Monday, January 21, it's Squirrel Appreciation Day. I'm thankful for many things and my list runneth over, but I've never thought squirrels could be counted among them. Until now. Squirrel Appreciation Day, founded by Christy Hargrove, a wildlife rehabilitator, gives a moment to reflect on the wonders of the family Sciuridae. Be they a shade of gray, pale orange, deep reddish-brown or black, on January 21, we are all God's children.
For background, these creatures are at it 24/7. As pure opportunists, they'll break into your attic any time. They'll jump out in front of your tires just to jolt you. They'll leave cracked acorns on your lawn when they think it looks too neat. Have overflowing birdfeeder problems? Need an attic pilfered? Count on these ubiquitous rodents to show you a thing or two. Watch them skitter, hop, run, jump and fly as they test not only their might and moxie, but also your patience.
Here are a few facts to help you embrace these critters that range in size from the five-inch African pygmy squirrel to the three-foot Indian giant squirrel:
1. They have four front teeth that grow continuously, at a rate of about six inches per year. (Charming.)
2. Their strength can rule the world. In 1987 and 1994, trading on the NASDAQ market was briefly shut down due to squirrels chewing through power lines. And just last September, more than 3,000 Northern Virginians lost power because one "curious" squirrel got into substation equipment and caused a transformer to blow.
3. A group of squirrels is called a "scurry" or "dray." (This can be an excellent conversation breaker. As in, "Hello. And Happy Squirrel Appreciation Day. Do you know what they call a group of squirrels?")
4. Most ground squirrels kiss when they see each other. Mouth-to-nose and mouth-to-mouth. (Eww.)
5. The brainy Rocket J. Squirrel (aka Rocky the Flying Squirrel), created in 1959 by cartoonist Jay Ward, is one of the world's most famous of the Sciurus genus. He buds around with Bullwinkle the Moose.
6. Adjectives used to describe squirrels include "annoying," "cute," "scurrilous, "messy," "entertaining," "invasive," "jittery," "adorable." (Do you have a favorite adjective for your favorite squirrel? Please share it with us.)
7. They communicate by making shrill sounds. (Who doesn't?)
8. Squirrels have big tails for several reasons. Its primary function is for balance by enabling them to dart around quickly without falling. Should they step amiss, the tail is also used as a parachute when they fall and a cushion when they land. In addition, tail gestures are a form of communication. (We do not know if the term "tattle tail" was invented by a squirrel.) When the tail is flicked, it means, "Get away." And lastly, those fluffy tails serve as excellent blankets in the winter.
9. Though their brawn with hauling nuts might flirt with your affection, squirrels do not make good pets. In fact, in many states it's illegal to keep wild animals. (Please don't remind me of the pet chimpanzee-who-tore-off-someone's-face story. While a squirrel wouldn't quite do that, they are not a species you can fully trust. Plus, they can't be trained to use a litter box. )
10. It is a little known fact that mother squirrels are occasionally cannibals. But only if the mother is really stressed out... like she is stuck in the attic with some of her pups and there's no food or water.
There's not a lot to forage for in January. Help celebrate Squirrel Appreciation Day by putting out some extra food. Toss them a handful of sunflower seeds. They also like dried corn. If you're feeling especially magnanimous, offer a few tulip bulbs. (Just watch out for your fingers.)