Wondrous Wildlife
Nuts to You!
By Vern and Lori Gieger

     Known by a variety of names (not all of them scientific) Mexican ground squirrels are a grayish, brown squirrel, usually with nine rows of squarish white spots on back. Their tail is moderately bushy, about two-fifths of total body length, they have, rounded ears. However, with those oval “obsidian eyes,” they remind us that we are not alone!
     They are cute, comical, and even fun to watch as they scurry about in search of food. Their food in early spring is chiefly green vegetation. They are known to feed on mesquite leaves and berries, etc. Squirrels are generally clever and persistent animals; in residential areas they are notorious for eating out of bird feeders, digging in potted plants, and yes, they can raise havoc in your garden. Gardens are a virtual salad bowl for the squirrels. However, they do try to even the score. Insects also are a large part their diet. In early summer about half of their diet is insects which inhabit our gardens. They also benefit us by feeding on many harmful weeds, and weed seeds.
     Ground squirrels typically inhabit brushy or grassy areas and are prey to several predators, including coyotes, bobcats, hawks, and a variety of snakes. We should not attempt to eliminate these ground squirrels, but rather, appreciate them. Not only do they provide some benefits, but they also provide people enjoyable opportunities to view wildlife with family and friends.
     These animals sometimes form large colonies, yet they are not very social. Each adult digs two burrows, a small one in the feeding area, evidently used as an escape hatche if predators approach, and a much bigger home burrow. Breeding occurs only once a year in early spring, producing a litter of four or five young. Although they occasionally climb into trees to find food or to sun themselves, they are more comfortable on the ground, especially near their burrows.
     Most humans are not too fond of squirrels. However have you ever thought how they feel about us? Chances are they’re not too fond of us either. They’re probably miffed at us for chasing them out of our homes, scaring them away from our bird feeders and most certainly, horrified that sometimes we own attack cats. They’re probably asking, “And what’s the big deal about the garden? The plants do grow back, right?” (Well, most of them.) “And, how was I supposed to know that was your prize orchid? Nevertheless, it was as tasty as it was pretty. And people say I have no class! And hey! What about all those bugs I eat? Not to mention the free fertilizer. I just get no respect!”
     Ground squirrels may benefit us in ways yet unknown. Of particular interest to some researchers, are the ground squirrel’s interactions with rattlesnakes. Adult ground squirrels are immune to the venom of rattlesnakes, but their young are not. Adults have factors that inhibit the venom from causing hemorrhaging of tissue, and researchers think this anti-hemorrhage ability merits further study. Remember, if you encounter a wild animal that needs help, call L.W.R.R. 765-4916