15 Squirrel Facts for Squirrel Appreciation Day

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Even if you live in a big city, you probably see wildlife on a regular basis. Namely, you're sure to run into a lot of squirrels, even in the densest urban areas. And if you happen to live on a college campus, well, you're probably overrun with them. While some people might view them as adorable, others see them as persistent pests bent on chewing on and nesting in everything in sight. But in honor of National Squirrel Appreciation Day, here are 15 reasons you should appreciate the savvy, amazing, bushy-tailed critters.

1. They can jump really, really far.

A flying squirrel soars through the air
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In one study [PDF] of the tree-dwelling plantain squirrels that roam the campus of the National University of Singapore, squirrels were observed jumping almost 10 feet at a stretch. In another study with the eastern ground squirrel, one researcher observed a squirrel jumping more than 8 feet between a tree stump and a feeding platform, propelling itself 10 times the length of its body. Flying squirrels, obviously, can traverse much farther distances midair—the northern flying squirrel, for instance, can glide up to 295 feet [PDF].

2. They're very organized ...

A squirrel digs in a grassy field filled with fallen leaves.
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In fact, they may be more organized than you are. A 2017 study found that eastern fox squirrels living on UC Berkeley's campus cache their nuts according to type. When given a mixture of walnuts, pecans, almonds, and hazelnuts, the squirrels took the time to hide each type of nut in a specific place. This method of "spatial chunking" may help them remember where the nuts are when they go to retrieve them later. Though the study wasn't able to determine this for sure, the study's results suggested that the squirrels may have been organizing their caches by even more subtle categories, like the size of the nuts.

3. ... But their forgetfulness helps trees grow.

Looking up a tree trunk at a squirrel climbing down
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Tree squirrels are one of the most important animals around when it comes to planting forests. Though they may be careful about where they bury their acorns and other nuts, they still forget about quite a few of their caches (or at least neglect to retrieve them). When they do, those acorns often sprout, resulting in more trees—and eventually, yet more acorns for the squirrels.

4. They help truffles thrive.

A man holds a truffle up for the camera.
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The squirrel digestive system also plays an important role in the survival of truffles. While above-ground mushrooms can spread their spores through the air, truffles grow below ground. Instead of relying on the air, they depend on hungry animals like squirrels to spread their spores to host plants elsewhere. The northern flying squirrel, found in forests across North America, depends largely on the buried fungi to make up its diet, and plays a major role in truffle propagation. The squirrels poop out the spores unharmed on the forest floor, allowing the fungi to take hold and form a symbiotic relationship with the tree roots it's dropped near.

5. They're one of the few mammals that can sprint down a tree head-first.

A squirrel stands on the knot of a tree trunk looking down at the ground.
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You may not be too impressed when you see a squirrel running down a tree, but they're actually accomplishing a major feat. Most animals can't climb vertically down head-first, but squirrel's back ankles can rotate 180°, turning their paws all the way around to grip the tree trunk as they descend.

6. Several towns compete for the title of "Home of the White Squirrel."

A white squirrel in Olney, Illinois stands on its hind legs.
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Squirrels are a more popular town mascot than you might think. Surprisingly, more than one town wants to be known as the "home of the white squirrel," including Kenton, Tennessee; Marionville, Missouri; the Canadian city of Exeter, Ontario; and Brevard, North Carolina, the location of the annual White Squirrel Festival. But Olney, Illinois may be the most intense about its high population of albino squirrels. There is a $750 fine for killing the all-white animals, and they have the legal right-of-way on roads. There's an official city count of the squirrels each year, and in 1997, realizing that local cats posed a threat to the beloved rodent residents, the city council banned residents from letting their cats run loose outdoors. In 2002, the city held a 100-Year White Squirrel Celebration, erecting a monument and holding a "squirrel blessing" by a priest. Police officers wore special squirrel-themed patches for the event.

7. They could aid in stroke research.

An illustration of different regions of the brain lighting up in blue
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Ground squirrels hibernate in the winter, and the way their brains function while they do may help scientists develop a new drug that can limit the brain damage caused by strokes. When ground squirrels hibernate, their core body temperature drops dramatically—in the case of the arctic ground squirrel, to as low as 26.7°F, possibly the lowest body temperature of any mammal on Earth. During this extra-cold hibernation, a squirrel's brain undergoes cellular changes that help its brain deal with reduced blood flow. Researchers are currently trying to develop a drug that could mimic that process in the human brain, preventing brain cells from dying when blood flow to the brain is cut off during a stroke.

8. Their fur may have spread leprosy in the Middle Ages.

A woman in a fur vest with a hood faces away from the camera and stares out over the water.
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If you always warn your friends not to pet or feed squirrels because they can spread disease, put this story in your back pocket for later: They may have helped leprosy spread from Scandinavia to the UK in the 9th century. Research published in 2017 found a strain of leprosy similar to a modern variant found in squirrels in southern England in the skull of a woman who lived in England sometime between 885 and 1015 CE. The scientists suggest that the leprosy may have arrived along with Viking squirrel pelts. "It is possible that this strain of leprosy was proliferated in the South East of England by contact with highly prized squirrel pelt and meat, which was traded by the Vikings at the time this woman was alive," one of the authors told The Guardian. That may not be the most uplifting reason to appreciate squirrels, but it's hard not to admire their influence!

9. They're more powerful than hackers.

A squirrel runs across a power line.
Frederic J. Brown, AFP/Getty Images

While energy companies may worry about hackers disrupting the power grid, squirrels are actually far more powerful than cyber-whizzes when it comes to sabotaging our electricity supply. A website called Cyber Squirrel 1 documents every public record of squirrels and other animals disrupting power services dating back to 1987. It has counted more than 1100 squirrel-related outages across the world for that time period, which is no doubt a vast underestimate. In a 2016 survey of public power utilities, wildlife was the most common cause of power outages, and for most power companies, that tends to mean squirrels.

10. They can heat up their tails to ward off predators.

A ground squirrel sits with its mouth open.
David McNew, Getty Images

California ground squirrels have an interesting way of scaring off rattlesnakes. Like cats, their tails puff up when they go on the defense. A squirrel will wave its tail at a rattlesnake to convince the snake that it's a formidable opponent. Surprisingly, they whip their tails at their foes whether it's light or dark outside. Squirrels can control the blood flow to their tails to cool down or keep warm, and they use this to their advantage in a fight, pumping blood into their tails. Even if the rattlesnakes can't see the bushy tails, researchers found in 2007, they can sense the heat coming off them.

11. They help scientists determine whether a forest is healthy.

A squirrel runs down a tree trunk toward a pile of leaves.
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Researchers look at tree squirrel populations to measure just how well a forest ecosystem is faring. Because they depend on their forest habitats for seeds, nesting sites, and food storage, the presence and demographics of tree squirrels in an area is a good bellwether for the health of a mature forest. Studying changes in squirrel populations can help experts determine the environmental impact of logging, fires, and other events that alter forest habitats [PDF].

12. They can lie.

A squirrel with a bushy tail stands on its hind legs.
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Gray squirrels know how to deceive. They can engage in what's called "tactical deception," a behavior previously only seen in primates, as a study in 2008 found. When they think they're being watched by someone looking to pilfer their cache of food, the researchers discovered, they will pretend to dig a hole as if burying their acorn or nut, but tuck their snack into their mouth and go bury it elsewhere.

13. They used to be America's most popular pet.

A man in a hat kisses a squirrel on the White House grounds
Harris & Ewing, Library of Congress // Public Domain

Though some states currently ban (or require permits for) keeping squirrels as pets, it was once commonplace. Warren G. Harding kept a squirrel named Pete who would sometimes show up to White House meetings and briefings, where members of Harding's cabinet would bring him nuts. But keeping a squirrel around wasn't just for world leaders—the rodent was the most popular pet in the country, according to Atlas Obscura. From the 1700s onwards, squirrels were a major fixture in the American pet landscape and were sold in pet shops. Despite Harding's love of Pete, by the time he lived in the White House in the 1920s, squirrel ownership was already on the wane, in part due to the rise of exotic animal laws.

14. The mere sight of just one squirrel could once attract a crowd.

A historical photo of nurses leaning down to feed a black squirrel
Library of Congress // Public Domain

The American cities of the 1800s weren't great places to catch a glimpse of wildlife, squirrels included. In fact, the animals were so rare that in the summer of 1856, when a gray squirrel escaped from its cage inside a downtown New York apartment building (where it was surely living as someone's pet), it merited a write-up in The New York Times. According to the paper, several hundred people gathered to gawk at the tree where the squirrel took refuge and try to coax the rodent down. In the end, a police officer had to force the crowd to disperse. The paper did not document what happened to the poor squirrel.

15. In the 19th century, they were tasked with teaching compassion.

A boy doing homework with a squirrel on the table.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In the mid-1800s, seeking to return a little bit of nature to concrete jungles, cities began re-introducing squirrels to their urban parks. Squirrels provided a rare opportunity for city slickers to see wildlife, but they were also seen as a sort of moral compass for young boys. Observing and feeding urban squirrels was seen as a way to steer boys away from their "tendency toward cruelty," according to University of Pennsylvania historian Etienne Benson [PDF]. Boy Scouts founder Ernest Thompson Seton argued in a 1914 article that cities should introduce "missionary squirrels" to cities so that boys could befriend them. He and other advocates of urban squirrels "saw [them] as opportunities for boys to establish trusting, sympathetic, and paternalistic relationships with animal others," Benson writes.

But young boys weren't the only ones that were thought to benefit from a little squirrel-feeding time. When the animals were first reintroduced to parks in the 19th century, feeding squirrels was considered an act of charity—one accessible even to those people who didn't have the means of showing charity in other realms. "Because of the presence of urban squirrels, even the least powerful members of human society could demonstrate the virtue of charity and display their own moral worth," Benson writes. "Gray squirrels helped reshape the American urban park into a site for the performance of charity and compassion for the weak." Even if you were too poor to provide any sort of charity for someone else, you could at least give back to the squirrels.

Bonus: They used to hate tax season, too.

A colored lithograph shows men and dogs hunting squirrels in a forest.
Currier and Ives, Library of Congress // Public Domain

Though notably absent from big cities, much of the U.S. was once overrun by squirrels. The large population of gray squirrels in early Ohio caused such widespread crop destruction that people were encouraged—nay, required—to hunt them. In 1807, the Ohio General Assembly demanded that citizens not just pay their regular taxes, but add a few squirrel carcasses on top. According to the Ohio History Connection, taxpayers had to submit a minimum of 10 squirrel scalps to the town clerk each year. Tennessee had similar laws, though that state would let people pay in dead crows if they couldn't rustle up enough squirrels.

This Caturday, Watch Two Kitties Duke It Out in the World’s Oldest Cat 'Video'

VladK213/iStock via Getty Images
VladK213/iStock via Getty Images

Yes, Thomas Edison’s invention of the first commercially successful light bulb indisputably altered the landscape of modern technology. But was it really his most important contribution to the world as we know it? This first-ever “cat video,” shot in his Black Maria Studio in New Jersey, suggests the answer is "No.”

In the 20-second short film from 1894, two cats bedecked in boxing gloves and harnesses duke it out inside a tiny ring. According to the Public Domain Review, the cat-thletes were members of Professor Henry Welton’s touring cat circus, which also featured cats riding bicycles and doing somersaults.

The film’s subject matter is actually pretty on par with the level of eccentricity reached in Edison’s other early recordings, which weren’t always animal-friendly. Atlas Obscura reports that he electrocuted an elephant, filmed a trapeze artist undressing, and also captured the first copyrighted film, “Fred Ott’s Sneeze.” In it, Fred Ott sneezes.

The decision to film a couple of kitties seems oddly prescient in the wake of today’s internet culture, where viral cat videos reign supreme. But if you’ve studied ancient Egypt even a little, you know that 1894 was hardly the beginning of our obsession with fascinating felines.

Hopefully, you’re not forcing your own cat to entertain the neighborhood with boxing matches, but are you treating her as well as you could be? Find out the best way to pet a cat here.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog

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iStock.com/Manuel-F-O

According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. Here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

1. Adopting a dog means you won't be supporting puppy mills.

A closeup of a dog's nose sticking out from between green bars.
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If you go to a pet store or to a disreputable breeder to buy that adorable puppy, it's entirely possible that it's from a puppy mill, where dogs are kept in terrible conditions. By adopting a rescue, you can help lower the demand for puppies from puppy mills.

2. You can find almost any breed you want.

A beagle puppy standing on a stone walkway.
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Is your heart set on a specific breed? There's a wide network of breed-specific rescues out there. Just spend a little time online and you can get the dog of your dreams without resorting to buying from puppy mills.

3. Shelter dogs are eager to follow your lead.

A woman holding up her finger to a dog.
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A 2016 study that appeared in Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research analyzed problem solving in dogs in homes (what they called "pet dogs") versus shelter dogs. The researchers found that although pet dogs are better at following human pointing, shelter dogs "seem to be more socially driven to gaze and interact with humans" when compared with pet dogs, which they say is likely due to the shelter dogs' "generally limited and poor-quality contact with humans." But the researchers also pointed out that with increased human exposure, the shelter dogs were trainable.

4. A rescue dog might help you get a date.

Two people from the knees down standing close together with a black and white dog between them.
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According to Slate, one survey found that "82 percent of people [felt] more confident approaching an attractive person if they had their dog with them." Another study cited by Slate found that in the modern world of dating apps, people with dogs look more approachable and happy than those who are dogless.

5. You can share your audiobook collection with them.

A young girl reads a book to her Pomeranian.
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There have been several studies on the best ways to calm dogs in kennels [PDF]. Classical music seems to work well, but a 2016 study found that compared to other "auditory conditions," kenneled dogs were more relaxed while audiobooks were playing. Cesar Milan then did his own tests and found that 76 percent of his volunteer dogs were more relaxed at home while listening to audiobooks—and teamed up with Audible to create a specialized audiobook service. Just be careful: soon your rescue pup will be better read than you.

6. Rescue dogs can transform in dramatic ways in a forever home.

A happy dog with his tongue out sitting in a field of flowers.
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Thanks to those heart-wrenching ASPCA/Sarah McLachlan commercials, everyone is familiar with how sad a dog can appear in a shelter. But once adopted, dogs' attitudes can change dramatically. In 2008, Italian researchers published a paper about a shelter dog named Daisy that they placed into a facility for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Although in the shelter Daisy had groomed so much that she developed a skin lesion, in the six months that she lived at the facility, her over-grooming lessened, she was healthy, and she "displayed no aggressive or sexual behavior, even when in heat." And the calming effect seemed to go both ways: the researchers reported, the people in the facility experienced "many positive effects of Daisy's presence."

7. Shelter pets come with benefits.

A dog running through the grass with an orange ball in its mouth.
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Whether you get your pet at a breed-specific rescue or from a normal shelter, you'll often have access to resources about your fuzzy new family member, and maybe even classes on how best to take care of them.

8. Shelter dogs are typically up-to-date on all their shots.

A vet giving a shot to a golden retriever puppy.
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Depending on the shelter, shelter dogs may already be vaccinated and microchipped (or the shelter will perform these services for a small fee)—which means you can get straight to cuddling your new pet instead of making vet appointments.

9. Shelter dogs may also already be spayed or neutered.

A vet looking into a dog's ear.
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More than half of states have laws requiring "releasing agencies" (a.k.a. shelters) to spay or neuter dogs they adopt out. While the pet sometimes isn't fixed until you adopt it, frequently it's already been spayed or neutered. Check with your local adoption center.

10. By adopting a dog, you're helping to keep the unwanted pet population down.

A lazy bulldog lying on a rug.
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If you happen to adopt a dog that isn't fixed, you can still help prevent pet overpopulation (especially in the wild) by keeping it in the house and away from other unfixed dogs of the opposite sex. (But seriously, get your pets fixed!)

11. Rescue dogs may be easier to housetrain.

A small dog holding a leash in its mouth.
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Many adult shelter dogs are already housebroken when you adopt them. But because the dog may have a history that prevented such training (such as never being allowed inside the house), you shouldn't go in expecting a house-trained pet. If your new pupper isn't house-trained, there are resources out there that can help you reach that goal; many say that adult dogs have an easier time getting the hang of it.

12. Adopt and older dog and you can skip the puppy stage.

A dachshund puppy plays with a shoe outside in grass.
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Yes, puppies are adorable. They're also full of energy and require a lot of time, training, attention, and patience. It can be tough to fit an energetic puppy into a hectic life. Adopting an older dog from a shelter allows you to skip the puppy stage altogether, which can mean an easier transition from not having a pet to being a pet owner. It also (hopefully) means you may avoid having your slippers, running shoes, pillows, furniture, and doors gnawed on by sharp little puppy teeth.

13. If you adopt an older dog, you'll have a better idea of their temperament.

An older dog sitting in the grass with his tongue sticking out.
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An analysis of many studies found that the "personality" of an adult dog is fairly consistent. Puppies, on the other hand, can change personality a fair amount, especially when it comes to "responsiveness to training, fearfulness, and sociability." So by getting an adult dog, you have a better idea of what the animal's personality is truly like.

14. A shelter can help match you with a dog that best reflects your personality.

A red haired woman holding a white dog, both laughing.
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Because adult dogs are generally more fixed in their personalities, many adoption centers have matching programs that help the process of pairing dog and human. The ASPCA claims the programs have dramatically improved successful adoptions at some shelters.

15. You'll feel more involved in the community.

A businessman walking his dog and talking to another dog owner.
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According to a 2013 study, dog owners over 50 who walked their dogs felt a higher sense of community. So adopting a dog can help you connect to your neighbors.

16. A dog can improve your health.

Woman working on her computer getting a kiss on the face from her dog.
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A study of Mexican dog owners versus non-dog owners found that the dog owners felt that they were healthier: "Compared to non–dog owners, the dog owners' scores were significantly lower for psychosomatic symptoms and stress and were higher for general health, vitality, emotional role, absence of bodily pain, social functioning, and mental health."

17. Your kids will play more if you have a dog.

A group of kids petting a dog.
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It's not just adults who experience health benefits from having a dog; another study found that child dog walkers played outside more and were more likely to walk in the neighborhood.

18. Adopting a pet helps small wild animals.

A dog looking for a squirrel up in a tree, but the squirrel is on the other side of the tree.
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As one of the most common predators in human areas, dogs can easily do great harm to local wildlife. By keeping dogs out of the wild (whether that's the city or the countryside), you can help reduce the numbers of truly wild animals that are preyed upon by what are supposed to be pets.

19. Adopting a dog can limit the spread of disease.

A yellow lab staring up at the camera.
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Feral dogs can also have disastrous effects on wild animals in regards to disease. For instance, the black-footed ferret was nearly driven to extinction by canine distemper. By keeping dogs out of the environment and up-to-date on all their necessary shots and vaccinations, adopters help many other animals, too.

20. You could have a movie star on your hands.

A dog wearing a bowtie, standing behind a slate for a movie.
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A surprising number of actual canine movie stars came from shelters. The original Benji was adopted from a shelter; Rudy, one of the 22 dogs that played Marley in the film Marley and Me, was just 24 hours away from being put down before he was rescued; and Spike, the star of Old Yeller, was adopted from Van Nuys Animal Shelter, supposedly for $3.

21. A rescue dog might have experience living in a home, making the move from shelter to your home an easier transition.

A dog on its back on a carpet.
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Some shelters have foster programs, where the dog is sent out to live with a volunteer in an actual house. Not only does this give the dog a chance to be away from the shelter, but it gives the humans looking after the pup a chance to see how the dog reacts in a less controlled environment—hopefully making the future forever home transition easier.

22. Even volunteering to foster has its benefits.

A woman walking a dog in the park.
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If you're not quite ready to adopt, consider fostering, which has a number of benefits for you and for the dogs you're housing. According to one researcher, overweight participants in a "loaner" dog walking program lost an average of 14 pounds because they felt "the dogs need us to walk them." Other participants in a community dog walking program were inspired to increase their exercise even when they weren't walking dogs.

23. You can help shelters modernize.

A chihuahua sitting on a cushion in an animal shelter.
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Shelters across the country are modernizing their facilities—which can sometimes be a very expensive prospect. The adoption fee you pay to the shelter to take your dog home will help the facility get the resources to give future dogs a better shelter experience.

24. By adopting a dog, you're saving at least one life.

A happy dog with its tongue sticking out lying on flowers.
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By giving a dog in a shelter a second chance, you can make sure it has a great life.

25. In reality, you're probably saving more than one life.

A dog running with a stick in its mouth; all four feet are off the ground.
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By adopting a dog, you open up a space in the shelter that can be filled by another future pet. And by supporting your local shelter, you help their mission to save many more.

But remember, a pet of any kind is a massive commitment. Some estimate that "more than 20 percent of people who leave dogs in shelters adopted them from a shelter." And studies have found that much of the problem is people not knowing what they're getting into. So make sure that you have the time and energy to devote to a pet, and do your research before adopting.

This story has been updated for 2019.

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