As I sit to write this blog entry it is as a captive of the snowstorm of 2014 (perhaps THE snowstorm of 2014 if time judges it so). My view of the world has been basically from the inside looking out and has been so for several weeks due to the bitter cold. From this perspective, the yard squirrels have been the primary subject of prolonged observations and thus the victim of my thinking. One can never be disappointed by squirrels – nor can the word “squirrel” be uttered in seriousness. “Quoth the Squirrel Nevermore” has a far different connotation than Raven quothing etc.
It is a basic fact of nature that squirrels are fuzzier during the winter. That should go without saying, but since it is my habit to say things that don’t need saying I will elaborate on that concept a bit. Even though the Red Squirrels adamantly claim my yard, Fox Squirrels will bravely trespass until they are driven off by their sparky little cousins. Both creatures are currently at their fuzzy best.
This morning a single Fox Squirrel nibbled upon one of the Red Squirrel’s walnuts under the cover of the blizzard. Bundled under a thick coat of yellow brown fur and equipped with fur gloves, he looked far more uncomfortable than he actually was. I, of course, can say this because I was looking out from a snug warm house. But still, although it looks as if he were protecting his nuts against the biting cold, there was ample indication that he was well insulated with fur and fat. The fresh blown snowflakes remained un-melted upon his brow as he fondled his prize in the low teen temperatures.
The Red Squirrels have been scarce for the last few days. They tend to sit tight during rough weather and restrict their activity to mid-day appearances. No doubt they will stir, visit their cache of walnuts under the shed and curse all Fox Squirrels when they discover that one of their precious nuts is missing. But let’s stick to hair here.
Both animals go through annual molts. Other than overall hairiness, a winter Fox Squirrel looks basically the same as its summer self in terms of color and pattern. They molt their fur once a year, including their tail, in early spring. It takes about a month to complete the job.
Red Squirrels, on the other nut…er, hand, take on quite a different appearance when the hiver blanc descends. Reds molt twice a year. The Spring molt progresses backward from the head and ends at the rump (see here a perfect example of this from my June 12, 2009 blog). Summer reds have a sleek shot-haired red-brown coat and a black racing stripe dividing the white belly form the brown sides. Their ears are scantily furred. I here provide a few summer images (below and here) to warm your winter soul.
The Fall molt, that which turns the animal into a winter beast, occurs in the opposite direction and includes the tail hairs. A winter Red Squirrel (see below) is grizzled with thick gray fur and basically lacks the black racing stripe. The reddish tail tone continues up the center of the back. Prominent ear tufts top off the winter décor. About the only thing that doesn’t change is that mischievous look which gives the impression that the creature is about to do – or has already done – something bad.