The Eurasian red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), or European squirrel, is found throughout the Palaearctic region of Europe and Asia.
In the Nordic countries, there are two squirrel species: the reverted flying squirrel (Pteromys volans) which is found only in Finland, and the red squirrel.
The arboreal squirrels are separated in two breeds: the northern breed of Sweden, Norway and Finland (S. v. vulgaris), and the continental breed of Denmark (S. v. fuscoater).
In picture on right: Eurasian red squirrel.
In Finland, red squirrels live in coniferous or mixed woods but are also often seen in groves and parks near human settlements.
Squirrel builds its nest high up in pine or spruce trees. The nest is ball-shaped, about 25 to 40 centimetres (10 to 15 inches) in diameter and fastened firmly against the tree trunk. One squirrel usually builds several nests within its territory. Squirrel litter is born in the female squirrel's favourite sleeping nest.
Squirrel's body length is about 20 centimetres (8 inches) and it weighs between 250 and 450 grams (½ - 1 pound). The tail is 15 to 20 centimetres long (6 to 8 inches), thick and bushy. The colour of the coat varies considerably from red and brown to almost black on the head and the back, while the stomach is always white.
In the autumn, the squirrel sheds its hair and grows a thick, grey winter coat and long ear tufts to keep it warm during the long, cold winter. During the spring, squirrel grows a new summer coat. The ear tufts don't fall off until summer.
Spruce cone eaten
Finnish squirrels eat mainly spruce seeds but whenever there are not enough spruce cones available, they may also eat pine seeds or conifer buds. Squirrels also eat nuts, flowers, fruits and berries, trees' inner bark, insects and caterpillars, as well as birds' eggs and fledglings.
In the summer and autumn, squirrels collect mushrooms and stick them between tree twigs so that they will dehydrate and keep up to be eaten later. They use this "storing method" for other food also.
In Finland, the squirrel female usually has two litters during the year: the first one is born in April or May and the second one later in the summer. There can be one to ten youngs, usually three to six. Squirrels have been known to live up to ten years in captivity, but in the wild most of them don't even reach the age of five.
In the old days, squirrel skin was used as a money substitute in the Nordic countries. Some decades ago squirrels were still hunted here for their fur. Nowadays squirrels are not allowed to be kept as pets and one may not kill them or harm them otherwise.
In picture on right: a mushroom preserved by squirrel by tucking it between tree bark.
Source: Jensen, Birger 1994: Suomen ja pohjolan nisäkkäät. (Finnish translation: Seppo Lahti)
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