Is Warm Winter Weather Making Squirrels Fat?
OutdoorHub Reporters 01.15.16
Have you noticed that the squirrels in your neighborhood look a little more plump than usual? Warm weather in parts of Europe and North America may have led to fatter squirrels, and the tubby critters have found themselves in the limelight after pictures of chubby squirrels started trending on social media. The cause seems to be warmer winter temperatures, which means plenty of grub still left on the trees for squirrels.
“Because of the mild wet weather there has been an abundance of food for squirrels. There has been no shortage of nuts, seeds and fungi for them to eat and store,” British wildlife expert Iolo Williams told Wales Online. “With the extra layers of fat and thicker winter coat this can make them look much bigger.”
Last month was the warmest December on record for the United Kingdom, which experts say may be due in part to El Nino and storms pulled in by the jet steam. Temperatures have also been higher than normal in North America. This means that instead of going into their winter slumber, squirrels are still eating.
”Basically, they’re double eating,” Toni O’Neil, director of the Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary in Hubert, North Carolina, told WNCT. “They’re eating all the things that are still in the wild for a longer period of time. We had a very good acorn production, there’s been some berries on the trees, and they’re still raiding everyone’s bird feeders.”
Squirrels bury a lot of food in preparation for winter, but by itself that may not be enough. Just like bears, squirrels pack on as much fat as possible to survive through winter. The layer of fat also has the added benefit of keeping the critters warm.
— Polly Bennett (@digitalpolly) January 7, 2016
“Grey squirrels can double their body weight in winter and the maximum weight ever recorded was 800 grams (1.7lbs),” Nick Mason, project manager for Red Squirrels Northern England and Northumberland Wildlife Trust, told the Daily Mail.
Eastern gray squirrels are especially adept at taking advantage of every food source they can, which is one of the reasons why they are displacing the native red squirrel in Europe. In North America, they are the most popular squirrel species for hunting and can be found from the East Coast to the Great Plains, as well as some other places besides.
What do you think? Have you seen any fat squirrels recently?