Where Does an Abert’s Squirrel Come From?
Where does an Abert’s squirrel live? The answer is all over the place, from the Ponderosa pines in California to the forests of New Mexico. This species is active throughout the year, leaving its nest only to find food. While we are usually awoken by the sounds of chirping and singing, we may never notice this adorable creature! During the day, this squirrel is active, but at night it sleeps in its nest.
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The Abert’s squirrel is a species of high-elevation conifer that inhabits the Sierra Madre Occidental in northern Chihuahua and southern Durango, Mexico. It has six subspecies in the southwestern United States. This species is also known to make its home in the Santa Catalina Mountains of Arizona. This squirrel is an important part of the forest ecology of the western United States, and its range extends into the northern half of the Sierra Madre Occidental.
While the forest composition of the Abert’s squirrel varies by location, its dietary relationships are closely linked to population size. The most successful population models in this species’ range depend on high local-scale basal area and ponderosa pine cover. However, intensive forest management is expected to result in higher Abert’s squirrel populations. However, it is difficult to forecast how widespread the Abert’s squirrel will be in the future.
The Abert’s squirrel is a native of the southern Rocky Mountains and northern Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico. It is associated with mature ponderosa pine forests and is named after American naturalist John James Abert. It has small tufted ears, pale underparts, and a rufous patch on the lower back. This species feeds mostly on the pine cones of both ponderosa pine and Mexican pinyon trees. It also feeds on buds and carrion.
The habitat of the Abert’s squirrel is primarily spruce-fir and mixed-conifer forests. This tree is also home to many invasive species, including red foxes and bobcats. This species can also obstruct the growth of native wildlife, such as bald eagles and red foxes. Despite its beneficial effects, the Abert’s squirrel is a pest in many regions of the world.
This diurnal squirrel is commonly confused with the Japanese red squirrel. Both are similar in size and shape. They have long tufted ears and are diurnal. They can live for over a decade in captivity, but do not hibernate. In captivity, Abert’s squirrels can reach up to 25 ounces. Like most squirrels, Abert’s squirrels do not experience periods of darkness.
Abert’s squirrels breed from late February to early June. Males and females will chase each other for hours. Females are promiscuous and copulate with multiple partners. The gestation period is around 43 days. The babies weigh 0.43 oz (12 g) at birth. They are weaned after 70-76 days, and reach sexual maturity at 327 days old.
The nesting season for the Abert’s squirrel occurs between February and June. The male Abert’s squirrel will chase the female for several hours. The female is very promiscuous and will copulate with more than one male. The gestation period is approximately 43 days, and the babies weigh 0.43 oz (12 g) at birth. After 70 to 76 days, the babies are weaned and weigh about 12.5 oz (355 g) when they reach sexual maturity.
The onset of breeding season reduces communal nesting, consistent with the social thermoregulation hypothesis. Females abandon communal nesting when the breeding season begins, to reduce competition and protect the offspring from infanticide. These results support a hypothesis that female Abert’s squirrels may choose to stay away from communal nesting during breeding season. Regardless of the reasons, these findings indicate that communal nesting may reduce thermoregulatory costs in colder conditions.
The diet of an Abert’s squirrel is dependent on the abundance and types of trees it feeds on. The species occurs in mixed-conifer and spruce-fir forests and also feeds on Ponderosa pine. According to the USDA Forest Service, the population size of this species varies considerably from year to year, due to dietary relationships and habitat conditions. The USDA Forest Service – Southwestern Region published an analysis of the dietary habits of Abert’s squirrels in the area.
The diet of an Abert’s squirrel is unique in that it includes different kinds of trees. It usually eats the needle clusters that grow at the tip of twigs. From November to April, it eats inner bark and twigs. The species also feeds on the staminate buds and cones from various plants. It also feeds on the pollen that forms in dried cones.
You may have wondered how to spot an Abert’s squirrel. Their plumage is quite similar to that of the Japanese red squirrel, and they have striking red streaks on their backs. These two species are similar in size and lifespan, with the Japanese red squirrel living up to a decade in captivity. The Abert’s squirrel is strictly a diurnal animal, meaning they spend most of their time foraging for food.
Although the Abert’s squirrel is a member of the squirrel family, they are not endangered, despite the widespread destruction of their habitats. In North Central Mexico, their population is estimated at 114 individuals. Loss of their habitat, which is mostly composed of ponderosa pine trees, is the main threat. This species has evolved to adapt to its changing habitat and adapted well to this type of environment, but it is not a perfect match.
Jessica Watson is a PHD holder from the University of Washington. She studied behavior and interaction between squirrels and has presented her research in several wildlife conferences including TWS Annual Conference in Winnipeg.