My constant companions on early morning runs around the neighborhood are dozens of gray squirrels who are furiously digging in every front yard on my route. They mostly ignore me although yesterday I interrupted two in the midst of a date and they scurried off. I don’t do bird feeders, my garbage is encased in the city’s cranberry-colored kevlar-strong trash container and I’ve never had a squirrel get inside my house, so I don’t harbor any animosity towards these guys. In fact, I sometimes feel sorry for the ones who frequent my back yard to bury their acorns. Since part of the job description of a Yellow Lab is to chase squirrels, any time we let our dog outside, she bolts like a gray hound towards any trespassers, driving them up trees just ahead of her arrival. That’s followed by a chorus of “cluck, cluck, clucks” which I always translated to mean “that was a close one!”

An article in the science section of today’s New York Times confirms my hunch that our neighborly gray squirrels are highly intelligent, highly evolved mammals. Those squirrels scratching around the grass in my back yard, for instance, are burying and re-burying nuts and seeds, something they do up to five times with the same nut – all to safeguard their cache from someone who might have spied the first burial. Studies have shown that when the squirrel knows that he’s being watched (by another squirrel, presumably), he will dig a hole, pretend to place a nut in it, then cover it up, all the while keeping the real nut hidden in his mouth. This type of deceptive behavior has only been seen in primates and humans, never in any other kind of animal. The article also explains the significance of the squirrel’s tail. Besides providing balance, it also serves as a type of HVAC system, speeding the circulation of warm blood in the cold and wicking away heat on days like today. The tail is also used as a type of semaphore flag, providing visual signals to supplement the audible “clucks.”

I do realize that the line separating fascinating co-inhabitor of the neighborhood from pest is a thin one, so I won’t be trying to domesticate any squirrels, but I will definitely be observing these fascinating critters a bit more closely in the future.

5 Responses to Squirrels

  1. Marie says:

    As proof of squirrel intelligence, I can report that many squirrels hang around the ground floor entrance to the Pollard Memorial Library.

  2. Right in Lowell says:

    Marie… to what do you attribute the decline in ‘readership’ of the PML over the years as reported in Sunday’s Sun and the increase in other town’s use of their libraries. I found it disappointing as I and my friends just love that library and would hate to see it go.
    My thought is that the parking is horrendous and keeps people away, especially when adult ed is in session. The lot is posted for library patrons only but area residents and everyone else seems to take advantage of the free parking and we users of the library are left with no place to park. The handicapped only spaces are always full of non handicapped people and it’s worse now since two of the handicapped spaces in front of the library were recently confiscated for city hall employees. That lot would be a great source of revenue for traffic enforcement.

  3. Marie says:

    RiL I too was disturbed and confused at the PML circulation numbers. I guess we need some definitions of what circulation means. I thought it meant books only. If so, then it could mean that more DVDs, etc are checked-out the the PML rather than books. I’m sure one of the Trustees or the Director could explain. Circulation doen’t seem to count in-house usage of the library. In the meantime, I’ll keep using the PML although my books (I only do books) come from throughout the MV Consortium system.
    We need to continue supporting the PML and other public libraries . The library is an important community resource, cultural center and means to an educated citizenry.
    BTW – I agree about the parking lot – before getting my placard I, too, often had to drive around and around for a spot or just give up until a later time. I wasn’t happy with the “capper” spaces change but so far I’ve gotten a space. I worry too about the tight spacing for the emergency vehicles. Many needs for a very limited area – and no solution on the horizon…

  4. Joan H says:

    The library circulation stats include anything that can be checked out – , books, dvds, and other resources. Chelmsford has a Taj Majal for space and we are confined to the “original ” square footage. The parking is the result of efforts by Steve Gendon’s wife and her sister when they had to park blocks away for a story hours several years ago. It has never really been enforced and that’s a shame . Back before I retired, we used to get complaints every day. If the the library could acquire and enforce dedicated spaces, then the circulation would most definitely increase. There used to be a meter maid who would check the lot twice a day , but the only thing she could enforce was the handicapped parking.

  5. Right in Lowell says:

    Parking space enforcement is a simple process of marking tires and coming back an hour or two later. Even twice a day would be nice. I will continue to use the library for books and DVD’s even though I have to drive around a few times. I’m a big supporter of the ‘rental section’.