Eastern Gray Squirrel

From Ohio History Central

Facts

Scientific Name: Sciurus carolinensis
Habitat: Throughout Ohio in cities and parks. Hill country with oak, hickory, tuliptree, beech, and maple
Adult Weight: 12-24 ounces
Adult Body Length: 8-10 inches (tail length: 7.8-10 inches)
Birth Period: February - March and July - August
Litters Per Year: 1 -2
Litter Size: 3 - 5
Life Expectancy: average 1 year; maximum 10 years
Foods: nuts, seeds, and fruits of hickory, beech, oak, black walnut, tuliptree, sugar maple, flowering dogwood, buckeye, wild grape, pawpaw, persimmon, butternut, and black cherry; also insects.

Notes

Squirrels are beneficial to the maintenance of Ohio's forests through their habit of burying excess food supplies, such as nuts, seeds, and acorns. Although squirrels dig some of these up to eat during winter, many are left alone. In the spring, those will sprout, giving new growth to the forest. Besides the gray squirrel, Ohio is home to the red, fox and flying squirrels.

History

Prehistory

Images of squirrels, although the species is unknown, have been found carved into Tremper Pipes made by the Hopewell culture.

Settlement

At the time of settlement, Ohio was 95% forested, making an ideal habitat for squirrels. A common saying is that a squirrel could travel from the Ohio River to Lake Erie without ever having to touch the ground. Because of the habitat, squirrel populations were extremely high. It was alleged that it took a month for an army of squirrels to pass.

Nineteenth Century

The large population of gray squirrels in early Ohio caused so much destruction of crops that people were encouraged to hunt them. In 1807, in addition to their regular taxes, the Ohio General Assembly required that each taxable person "...produce to the clerk of the township...such number of squirrel scalps,...in proportion their county levies, provided that it does not exceed 100 or be less than ten." This had little effect on squirrel populations.

A massive hunt was organized in 1822, resulting in the killing of over 19,666 squirrels. It was reported that a hunter, in 1857, killed 160 in one day. These hunts continued through the 1850s. Still, squirrel populations declined until restrictions on hunting seasons were initiated in 1885. Another reason for lower numbers was the removal of hardwood forests. This eliminated the food supply of nuts, seeds and acorns they needed to survive.

Twentieth Century

Today, the Eastern Gray Squirrel’s primary range is the unglaciated hill country. They prefer oak-hickory forests, but can survive in other forests types. Although the oak-hickory forests have remained steady, the number of Red Maples is increasing. If this continues, squirrel populations will likely decline. However, it has urbanized itself very well, living in cities and parks with large hardwood trees.

Resources

  • Gottschang, Jack L. A Guide to the Mammals of Ohio. The Ohio State University Press, Columbus, OH: 1981.
  • Lafferty, Michael B., editor-in-chief. Ohio's Natural Heritage. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 1979.
  • Ohio Department of Natural Resources. 1998-99 Population Status and Hunting Forecast. Columbus, OH: Fall 1998.

See Also