Thursday, January 5, 2012

Baby New Year – The Gray Squirrel

Half of the Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) alive today will not survive to 2013. This does not ease my mind regarding the predicament I find myself in on the day when a small, slightly-furred and sightless creature was found on a boardwalk deep in the heart of the Everglades. What to do?The lifespan of a Gray Squirrel averages 11 to 12 months which means half of them can live longer and some as long as ten years of age in the wild. It also means that from birth through adolescence there are plenty of hardships that lead to their demise. Poor nut crops and cone production can lead to insufficient food supply, and diseases combine as the two greatest causes of Gray Squirrel mortality. Predators including hawks, bobcats, raccoons and the tree climbing snakes also reduce the population size.
In the cypress forests of the Western Everglades, Gray Squirrels are relatively abundant and more frequently seen than their larger and more colorful cousin, the Big Cypress Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger avicinnia). Mating season begins earlier in the south with courtship involving routine male competition, chasing of the female and a one-minute mating affair that results in 2-6 pups being born 44-46 days later.
Doe squirrels will build a secluded nest in the cavity or fork of a tree but still must protect their young from nest predators and cannibalistic squirrels. Pups are blind and naked with only the vibrissae whiskers to help them locate their mother in the nest. Within a few weeks they begin to grow fur and by week four they can open their eyes.
After only a week they have doubled their size from half an ounce to an ounce and as the pups grow, space in the nest dwindles. Occasionally they are accidentally pushed from the nest or dropped by the mother while transporting them.
This pup was found in the middle of the Fakahatchee Strand State Park boardwalk. It was seemingly unharmed and breathing fine. My choice was to find a rehabilitator to care for it or delicately move it from harms way and leave it for mama to come and get it. Having seen a squirrel close by, I left the pup and wished it well in 2012, hoping to see it in 2013.

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