Villa Quetzal

Villa Quetzal

Sunday, September 1, 2013

"SQUIRREL" The cutest fast-forward moving animal in the forest...

Have you ever taken the time to observe a squirrel moving all over and through the trees?  Wow!  Talk about fast- forward movement… they seem to be in a hurry or on some sort of deadline to accomplish whatever it is that they are doing. 
No wonder we call "squirrely" a person who acts in a way that shows too much energy, hype, and a bit of craziness. 

Do you remember Chip and Dale, the cartoon chipmonks? They are, in fact, part of the Sciurus family, which are also cousins of cute squirrels we have here in Costa Rica. 

Squirrels come in all sizes, colors, and combinations.  Here in Southern Costa Rica we are blessed with an abundance of variegated squirrels (Sciurus variegatoides).  This squirrel belongs to the family of tree squirrels; it has large bushy tail and a shiny and bristly coat.  There are 14 different subspecies, exhibiting a wide range of colors and color patterns.  For example, the dorsal-area color ranges from blackish to reddish brown to yellowish-gray to white.  On the belly side, the color ranges from white to Cimarron-buff.  Every subspecies have different combination of dorsal and lateral stripes, and forehead patches; the underside is rarely banded.  They have a bushy tail and its underside usually, is lighter in color.

Whatever the combination of their coats, it is an amazing camouflage when they are commuting for food on the palm trees.

This type of squirrel consumes nuts and fruits of various kinds, including hard-shelled and soft, thin-shelled seeds, as well as some vines, flowers, and fungi.  The squirrel visiting my house seems to enjoy coconuts.  It is a cute one and it works for hours on the fibrous exterior of the coco until the shell opens up.  When the water starts pouring, then it makes the hole bigger, sometimes big enough to go for a dip inside the coconut and drink the water.  It loves to eat the meat, sometimes I see it just nibbling directly from the coconut, other times it breaks a larger piece to take it to a more comfortable place.

A very important collateral contribution resulting from the squirrel eating habits is the dispersal of seeds.
This type of squirrel tends to be solitary; they often build their nest in tall and slender
trees, usually in the junction between a limb and the main trunk of the tree.  Squirrels are diurnal; therefore, they are more active during the early morning.  They spend most of their time in the trees; it is amazing to see them running and leaping from one branch to another with great agility.  When they need to cross an open area, they do it via fences and lower trees.    

There is very little information about the mating system of this type of squirrels.  What we know is that because of their solitary personality, when they get together, it is with the sole purpose of mating.  The female goes into estrus once a year and only for one day.  The male knows when the female wants to mate with him by reading the olfactory cues and her behavioral changes.  During that, one day a year, more than one male might enter the scene, if that happens, they will fight in order to mate.  After mating the male and the female go their own separate ways, there is no “happily ever after” bond.    

The female squirrel builds a nest high up in a tree, where she will have her babies. 
The nest is typically made with twigs and leaves, and is usually waterproof, something very important in tropical areas.  The gestation period lasts between 33-46 days.  The newborns are blind and naked; their digits are fused together, and their weight is less than one ounce.  At four days old, they become vocal, emitting squeaky noises.  The fur starts developing during the third week.  The babies develop teeth and open their eyes after 30 days of being born.  Then the road to independence begins, by the fourth week they learn to groom themselves, and when they reach the sixth week, they leave the nest.  These squirrels become mature somewhere between 12 and 15 weeks of age.    

Squirrels have a lifespan between 8 and 14 years in the wild, and up to 16 years or more in captivity.  Unfortunately, it is also known that a large percentage of them do not live past their first year in the wild, becoming victims of opportunistic predators such as wildcats, eagles, owls, and snakes.

These cute variegated squirrels live in tropical regions, specifically in the forest and rain forest.  They can be found in North and Central America, from southern Chiapas, Mexico to Central Panama.

When you visit or move to Ojochal, Costa Rica; you will receive frequent visits from Mr. Squirrel and many of his amazing friends.  If you are a nature lover, you will be in for a treat, and if you are not used to nature, you will fall in love with it.

A bit off the beaten path, it is a worthy vacation choice!

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