One that everybody is familiar with is the sight of squirrels vivaciously pursuing each other around a park lawn or spiraling down a tree trunk. But why are they doing that?
There are many explanations why “play tag” for squirrels, as well as a lot, will depend on the age and gender of the squirrels in question.
However, according to John L. Koprowski, a squirrel specialist, and professor of wildlife protection and management at the University of Arizona, chasing is most commonly connected to the establishment or preservation of dominance in adult squirrels, which is how they resolve territorial disputes.
Koprowski said that squirrels would chase or nip at other squirrels that feed on their turf. A sure indication of a territorial conflict is the up-and-down spiraling pattern around a tree demonstrated during certain chases.
To exert control over each other to secure a mate, male squirrels chase each other. Then they will seek a female who is in estrus. As a means of play, young squirrels can be seen chasing each other.
The appearance of squirrels relentlessly chasing around together and round or spiraling out of control a tree trunk is familiar to most of us.
You do not know, though, why these cute animals are chasing each other around. It is convenient to believe that they are all playful creatures. There are many explanations, apart from playing, why squirrels are sometimes seen chasing each other.
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It all relies on the sex of the squirrels and their age. There is always a good explanation behind it every time you spot them running up or down a tree, dropping, picking themselves up, and proceeding with the chase.
Safeguarding their territory
The territorial animals are certain kinds of squirrels. Others may not be territorial, but if there are several of them living in one area, they may exhibit this form of behavior.
This is most often due to a lack of adequate places for nesting or limited food within the region.
The most territorial of all species in North America are the American red squirrels and the California ground squirrels, while gray squirrels are regarded as less territorial.
By chasing away other squirrels or intruders, these small mammals defend their territory. Until the attackers have totally left their domain, they continuously pursue and nip. Consequently, defining a territorial dispute is very easy.
In what appears to be an infinite spiraling pattern up and down tree trunks, you can spot the squirrels running behind each other.
When they are sufficiently mature, baby squirrels typically travel away to develop their territories. This can be from the mother’s territory up to 80 meters.
Correspondingly, to maximize the likelihood of their offspring’s existence, some mothers may also completely give up their already formed territories.
If it refers to their protective behavior, the Northern flying squirrels have a mixed pattern. It is not territorial for the males.
Females, on the other hand, are motivated to show territorial protection by certain factors.
They become territorial only if there are fewer possible breeding sites where their babies can be raised.
The California Ground Squirrels are another species of the squirrel with territorial habits. Above all, it is the males who show this form of behavior. They have male squirrels in their home range.
This category does not involve other men, and any invaders will be vigorously chased away by them. Living in burrows, this species appears to have a restricted range of around 75 yards.
For these animals, burrows are very necessary, considering it takes a lot of work to construct one. Their burrows are their key way to live in the wild since they hide from predators here.
For this reason, any intruding squirrels attempting to lurk within their territories will be chased away by California ground squirrels.
The mating chase usually occurs in either the late winter or even at the very start of the spring and has a different pattern. Adult squirrels are searching for a possible mate at this moment. By the age of 10 to 12 months, most squirrels achieve sexual maturity.
Two forms of mating chases occur. The first includes rivalry between men who want their superiority to be proclaimed. Competing men are pursuing and capturing one another.
This is accompanied by physical combat between men. It’s not only about the size or strength of the squirrel in these chases, but also about maturity.
It has been observed that it’s the older male squirrels who win the battle to claim supremacy on several occasions.
They earn the interest of the female squirrels after a male has emerged triumphant and shown their worth. Women are aware of the men who are the most eligible bachelors.
Several males remain close to her territory when the female squirrel is almost entering the estrus. Females emit unique to offer scents and inflections from different neighboring territories that attract men.
Males stay until she is ready for mating and becomes responsive. Male to male competition occurs with their supremacy being established by one of them. Afterward, this is when her mating chase starts with the female.
Often the female squirrels will give chase while her suitors battle it out at the same time. It’s typically the dominant male who seeks her first and her mate. This is not always the case, however.
The female runs off and lures the male squirrels to chase after her. As mates, the males who can keep up show how sustainable they are.
As the quest continues, the male squirrel checks the scent released by the female to ensure that she is in estrus. This is a very necessary activity because female squirrels have been in heat for just a few hours.
The pursuit continues with the two of them chasing each other across the tree trunks and through the fields until the male eventually manages to capture his partner. If the chase is over, the squirrels will copulate.
This is the natural course of squirrel mating. That’s why you might be able to spot them in a tireless pursuit.
There are, however, a few exceptions to the law, and some squirrels may prefer to avoid it altogether.
In certain cases, younger males may be waiting in the territories of a female.
They’re resisting the search and waiting for the female to end the chase. Then the sly male will attack the powerful squirrel and attempt to chase him away. On a few occasions, the woman is wounded in these vicious assaults.
Young Squirrels Playing
Younger folks of many animal species are playful. Baby squirrels are no exception to this. Squirrels want to play the game.
Young squirrels participate in playful chasing and play-fighting. They run like kittens and puppies happily after each other.
This style of play is advantageous for juvenile squirrels. It helps them improve their balance and strength skills.
Young squirrels do not normally result in violent behavior, with only fun nips happening.
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.