Friday, November 19, 2010

Red Squirrel. Native or not ????

There are two types of squirrel in Ireland one is classed as an invasive species and it is called the Grey Squirrel, the other is classed as our native squirrel and is called the Red Squirrel.

Now I was reading a very interesting book by David Cabot (Ireland) and on page 257 I came across a very interesting account of the Red Squirrel (well I think it is interesting) that I thought I would share with those who read this blog. It strays a little from my normal route but it’s a cold night.

The native species is the red squirrel, which is more at home in coniferous woodlands. Formerly widespread throughout the country, red squirrels became extinct sometime after the middle of the seventeenth century for reasons not entirely clear but probably related to capture and killing of the animals for their fur which was a valuable commodity at the time. The last known date recorded for taxes levied on the export of skins was in an Irish statute of 1662, It is generally considered that the red squirrel died out soon after 1662.

After its demise the red squirrel was reintroduced to Ireland in the early nineteenth century and has since spread to all counties but seldom in close proximity with the grey squirrel-due probably to interspecific competition for food and breeding territory.

From inquiries carried out by the Victorian naturalist Richard Manliffe Barrington who investigated the reintroduction date, it would appear that the great-grandfather of Francis Synge-a relation of the playwright John Millington Synge-of Glanmore Castle, Ashford, County Wicklow, was responsible for the reintroduction at Ashford sometime between 1815 and 1825.

There were many subsequent reintroductions of red squirrels brought from England, throughout Ireland during the mid and late nineteenth century. They are now firmly established as part of the Irish fauna (Cabot, 1999).

Cabot, David. 1999. Ireland. Harper Collins Publishers. London.

Fascinating red squirrel facts.
• Their scientific name is Sciurus vulgaris.

• Red squirrels eat seeds, buds, flowers, shoots, nuts, berries and fruit from many trees and shrubs. They also eat fungi and insects, and occasionally birds’ eggs.

• They store nuts in the ground in the autumn.

• They can be right- or left-handed when they eat a pine cone!

• They will occasionally strip bark from trees (usually conifers).

• Squirrels moult their coat twice a year, once after winter and then in the late summer before the weather gets colder again.

• They moult their ear tufts only once a year, in late autumn.

• They can live to six years of age.

• They have four fingers and five toes.

• They are not always red in colour but can also be brown, almost black or quite grey!

• They weigh 275-300g, the same as four Mars Bars or a packet of biscuits.

• Their body is 18-22cm long and their tail is 14-19cm in length.

• Squirrels live high in trees in a nest made from twigs, leaves and moss. This is called a drey.

• The drey may be in a hole in the tree or set against the trunk and branches.

• Pregnancy lasts 36-42 days and their young are called kittens.

• Kittens are born with their eyes closed, without teeth and with no hair. After about seven weeks they look just like small versions of their parents and are ready to leave the drey.

• There can be two litters a year, with 3–4 kittens in each litter.

• Average densities in conifer and broadleaf areas are 0.5–1.5 red squirrels per hectare.

• They do not hibernate over winter, but may be less active when weather conditions are bad.

• They can hang upside down!

• They can swim!

• Red squirrels are extremely susceptible to Squirrelpox virus, (carried by the grey) which is lethal.

As a matter of interest the Grey Squirrel was introduced into Ireland by man in 1911. The Red spends most its life in tree’s. The Grey spends most its life on the ground.

I shall now return to my normal blog postings but I can't promise not to stray again???


  1. Hi there. I live in Toronto, Canada, and earlier this year, my wife, Jean, and I were in Ireland where we came upon the rarely seen Red Squirrel. They actually look somewhat like our Canadian Red Squirrels, but boy, do they have long ears! We were shocked to learn that Ireland’s Red squirrels are contracting the pox virus from Grey Squirrels, and dying. We have posted some of our pictures and video for anyone interested at:

  2. Hi Bob. I hope you and your wife enjoyed your stay in our beautiful country. Yes unfortunately the Red is competing with the Grey on a rather uneven playing field and eventually Darwin's Law may prevail. However, I hope that the Red can develop some kind of defence against the squirrel pox.
    Thank you for your comments and your very interesting link.

    Keep smiling. SilentOwl.

  3. The question on whether they are native is still open. There was a recent study on their DNA and it could not rule out the possibility that some Irish red squirrels have genes distinct from British gene lines. Despite the reintroduction of reds there may have been local survivals. One of the problems is that the reds are so rare in the UK that DNA samples are only available from a small number eg taxidermy specimens or the Northern English populations.

  4. Hi Bealoideas,

    Maybe we should just rejoice in the fact that Red's are now back in Ireland for I do not believe we will ever truly know whether there are any original survivors left. I hope that both the Red and the Grey can exist side by side but I'm afraid the jury is still out on that one.