Saturday, September 24, 2005

New mammal in Central Park

Red Squirrel [Tamiasciurus hudsonicus]

During a lull at the Moth Tree last week, Nick Wagerik reported that a new mammal had been sighted in Central Park -- a Red Squirrel. It seems to have settled in at the Locust Grove, a grassy strip to the west of the Great Lawn., and many of the park's nature lovers have managed to have a look at it. As far as I know this is the first time that this mammal has been seen in Central Park-- and perhaps in any other New York City park. Please let me know if you have evidence of this species' presence elsewhere in the City. [The common Central Park squirrel is the Gray Squirrel.]

Meanwhile, here is some information about Red Squirrels from the website of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation [DEC] and the State of Connecticut website. The latter provides a range description that makes it seem unlikely that this squirrel arrived in Central Park naturally. Perhaps it is someone's escaped pet squirrel..

About squirrels in general:

[From DEC website]
A large group, the squirrel family includes tree
squirrels (gray, red, fox), flying squirrels,
chipmunks, marmots (woodchuck), antelope
squirrels, ground squirrels, and prairie
dogs. While not all species occur here, New York
State is home to a number of squirrel species
which are readily seen by many people year-round.
Squirrels are distinguished from all other
rodents by their thickly furred bushy tails. In
fact, that "banner tail" is so characteristic of
tree squirrels that it serves as the basis for
naming these small mammals. The Latin word
Sciurus (sk’yooris) means squirrel, and is
derived from the Greek skia (shadow) and oura
(tail). Anyone who’s seen a squirrel run across a
street or lawn with its tail undulating and waving
can appreciate the concept of shadow tail.
And typically, a squirrel sits with its tail curled
over its back– "in the shadow."
Squirrels come in a wide variety of colors. In
fact, as a whole, this group of animals is prone
to producing color variants of the more typical
color patterns for that species. For example, in
New York, gray squirrels can be black-furred,
albino, or many different variations of gray
mixed with yellow-to-reddish brown. Many
squirrel species have light spots on the back of
their ears.
All squirrels have chisel-like front teeth,
sharp claws and strong legs. Most have clusters
of sensitive whiskers on their faces and front
legs to help navigate climbing trees or tunneling
in the earth. Most species of squirrels are active
during the daytime. Some ground-dwelling
squirrels will hibernate in the winter.
Highly territorial, squirrels usually expel
intruders from their "home turf." That’s why you
may see a red squirrel or even a chipmunk
chase off a much larger gray squirrel. Long-lived
for rodents, squirrels average 3-5 years old, but
can live up to 8-10 years in the wild, which is
several times longer than the usual year or two
for most smaller rodents.

About Red Squirrels:

The red squirrel is a small, aggressive squirrel that
primarily lives in areas with abundant evergreens.
It gets its name from the rich rusty coloration
along its back and tail, which is separated from its
whitish belly and chest by a short, black "racing
stripe." A red squirrel seems to almost never walk,
but rather runs or climbs trees in quick and sudden
bursts of energy, sometimes chattering and scolding
loudly along the way. Larger than a chipmunk,
but smaller than a gray squirrel, an adult red squirrel
weighs about one-half of a pound. In areas such
as the Adirondacks, the red squirrel is far more
abundant than the gray.

From the State of Connecticut website:
Identification: The red squirrel is a rather small-sized tree squirrel, only about half the size of the more common gray squirrel. It's bushy tail is somewhat slender and almost as long as the length of its head and body combined. The coat of the red squirrel is a rusty, reddish-brown in summer, turning slightly grayer in winter, and the underside is white. In summer, a black stripe is pronounced along its sides, separating the white underside from the reddish, upper body. Both males and females are about equal in size.

Range: Red squirrels occur throughout the northern United States and parts of Canada, south into the Appalachian Mountains. They are also found in the Rocky Mountains south to Arizona and New Mexico.