Squirrel, a small, active, bushy-tailed mammal. The name comes from the Greek for “shade-tailed.” Squirrels are gnawing mammals, or rodents. They are native to every continent except Australia and Antarctica. There are about 250 species of squirrels divided into two groups—those that live in trees and those that live on the ground. This article is concerned with tree squirrels.

SquirrelsSquirrels are small, bushy-tailed rodents.

The squirrel's claws are suited for climbing and for clinging to branches. In jumping, the squirrel's tail acts as a rudder, enabling the animal to hold its course or to swerve.

The squirrel has paired incisors in each jaw. These chisel-shaped teeth can cut into the shell of a nut. The squirrel holds the nut up to its mouth with its front paws. It either gnaws the nut or, keeping its jaws still, twirls the nut against its teeth. Squirrels also eat fruit, seeds, grain, and birds' eggs.

Squirrels commonly live in tree hollows or in nests they build of leaves, twigs, and grass in tree crotches. They may remain in their nests for several days during cold weather. The normal life span of a squirrel is 5 to 10 years.

SquirrelsSquirrels live in tree hollows or in nests of leaves, twigs, and grass.

Squirrel skins are used for coats, scarves, linings, and trimmings. The fine, lightweight fur is usually dyed brown, but natural colors are also used. Skins of the best quality come from Europe and Central Asia. The fur of North American squirrels is too sparse and coarse to be of much commercial value. Squirrel meat is edible and in many parts of the world, including the United States, squirrels are shot for game.