When you think of squirrels, you might picture them scampering around with acorns, but the diet of these small mammals goes way beyond this common nut. Regarding the squirrel diet, variety reigns. Their diet depends not only on the season, but also on the geographical location and species of the squirrel.
As relatives of chipmunks and prairie dogs, most of the nearly 300 species of squirrels worldwide consume a mix of nuts, seeds, fruits, bark, and sometimes even insects or bird eggs when the situation calls for it. Now, let’s elaborate on this diet comparison across species, taking a closer look at squirrels in central Florida.
The two common squirrel species in this region, known as the Eastern Gray Squirrel and the Southern Flying Squirrel, lean heavily towards different diet preferences. Eastern Grays, bigger in size, typically lean towards harder nuts like pecans and hickory, while smaller Southern Flying Squirrels prefer softer fare like fruits and fungi. Interestingly, the Southern Flying Squirrel also has a fondness for insects and other small animals, providing a protein boost to their diet.
Squirrels are opportunistic omnivores, meaning their diet changes according to season and availability. In autumn, for example, they buddy up with oak trees for the rich acorn harvest, storing surplus nuts for the winter months. Spring sees them munching on tree buds, while summer brings a buffet of fruits and berries.
However, an important thing to remember is that not all meals are beneficial for squirrels, especially when it comes to human food. Often, the effects of human food on squirrels can lead to health issues. It is particularly detrimental because it lacks the nutritional elements essential to them, but contains high levels of salt, sugar, and preservatives.
Understanding squirrels and their dietary needs is essential, especially if you live in an area with a large squirrel population. A well-fed squirrel may indeed be a happy one, but remember — not all snacks are created equal. Human food may be more harmful than helpful to these cute critters.
In central Florida, as in many other places, squirrels bring so much life and energy to our natural landscapes. It’s important that we understand how to interact with them responsibly. But, as we study their diet, you might be left wondering, where exactly do squirrels live? Next, we’ll delve into their habitats.