Tree Squirrel

A young tree squirrel looks down from a branch.

The tiny little tree squirrel is a common inhabitant of South Africa's Kruger National Park.

Name:
Tree squirrel
Scientific Name:
Paraxerus cepapi
Weight
200 g
Length:
35 cm
Mating Season:
Throughout the year

Description

The sub-species of Tree Squirrel found in the Kruger National Park, known as Smith’s Bush Squirrel, is covered by shades of grey fur, with yellow parts covering its lower-back region, hind legs and its bushy, long tails. There are added white parts of fur on their chest and belly-regions, although the shade of these colors differs from one are to another. The average weight of such a squirrel is a meager 200g, and their length average is 35cm of which nearly half of that spans the length of their well-known furry tail. Their ears are small and round, and they have long fingered paws similar to primates at the ends of their front legs.

Distribution

These squirrels are exclusive to Sub-Saharan and even sub-equatorial Africa, starting from areas adjacent to Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania, down to the southern borders of Limpopo in South Africa. Their range is between the tropic of Capricorn and the Equator. In between these outlines they can be found throughout most of Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe going into Botswana, Namibia, Angola and the D.R. Congo, as well as in the south of Mozambique going into South Africa. They aren’t, however, present in the Kalahari or Namib Deserts, where the lack of cover from predators can pose a great disadvantage to their survival. The same goes for floodplains or treeless plains. 

Status

As one might think, these animals, like many of their foreign family members, are very widespread and aren’t in any threat, being labeled as least concern by organizations such as the IUCN. They have many populations in protected areas and their populations are thought to be of large size, although determining even an estimate may be quite the task. Their numbers don’t seem like they’re declining, or declining rapidly enough to be called near threatened or vulnerable on a conservation status scale, and are thought to be stable going into the future.

Habitat

The various woody areas of the Kruger National Park offer many suitable shelters and habitats, from Mopane forests near Mopani Rest Camp to tree-rich woodland areas found in scattered areas throughout the park. Trees with natural holes in them are preferred by most squirrel species, because of its use as a shelter and place in which to raise young. The more trees in a woodland area the better for these animals, whether it be acacia thorn trees or larger trees. Their main food source is also found within trees; seeds. They also spread seeds around large trees to facilitate regrowth, thereby giving back what they take and keeping up their end of the symbiotic relationship they share with trees.

Social Organization

These Tree Squirrel species arrange themselves into family groups who usually share a shelter from the heat of the day and the shadows or those within them during the starry African nights. All members of such a family group share the same scent, making life much easier for them when it comes to setting boundaries for other families and their members. All the young are raised together by all their respective mothers together, a very communal and social relationship building exercise.  Furthermore males may show territorial behavior by protecting their homes, although the same behavior has been seen from females and adolescent young.

Social Behavior

They are most active, out and about during the daytime, making them diurnal creatures, but spend most of their time in trees, on branches and between leaves where the sun’s grasp on them is not that strong. They mostly forage for food during this time, but keep a careful lookout for any predator that might come walking or flying by, because squirrels overall, especially juvenile squirrels, are very vulnerable and are almost last on the food chain. They also groom and socialize vocally with one another during the day, checking for parasites and keeping up their appearance and hygiene.

Reproduction

Breeding; the one thing that separates the men from the boys, and this is no different when it comes to Squirrels. They typically mature sexually at around 6 to 9 months of age, and it is then when they are exiled from their family group by the dominant, breeding pair to eliminate competition and force them to start a group or family of their own. Once they find suitable mates they start breeding, have offspring and repeat the cycle. Mating usually happens seasonally although they are able to give birth to more than one litter of little squirrels every year.

Anti-Predator Behavior

These squirrels are another of the species that practice the very peculiar art of ‘mobbing’ when under threat by other families or by predators. The idea of mobbing is to intimidate and scare off your attackers with sheer showmanship, confidence and ferocity. All the members of the group gather lift their tails to make them seem bigger and make a clicking sound while slowly and confidently moving closer and closer. Some bird species, small carnivores and domesticated animals are the usual predators that can be sent packing in this fashion. When this does not work, as it inevitably sometimes does, they will run away and seek shelter, swallowing their pride in the end.

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