Although it is not very popular, tree squirrels like grey and black squirrels are game animals and are hunted on occasion. However, ground squirrels are not considered game animals and are therefore not managed for hunting by seasons or bag limit. The lack of management makes it more difficult to control but not impossible to hunt and consume.
Although Squirrels, in general, are considered healthy to eat because of their lean meat due to their diet, ground squirrels are highly susceptible to diseases like fleas. In addition, they are often exposed to chemicals in the environments they function as a method of controlling them. Nonetheless, they are edible rodents.
So, what separates ground squirrels from grey tree squirrels, and what is the difference between the meats they produce?
First, let’s delve into the diet and behavior of ground squirrels to deduce whether they are indeed healthy to consume and evaluate the risks involved when they are not adequately prepared or hunted in the wrong locations.
Is It Healthy To Eat Ground Squirrels?
Ground squirrels are rodents that live on and underneath the ground rather than in the trees. They are neither as large as marmots nor as small as chipmunks, but they function in open fields and pastures, making them a pest for livestock farmers.
Regardless of their difference from tree squirrels, ground squirrels are still edible depending on their diet and the environment they function in.
Squirrels in general, including ground squirrels, are considered healthy meat due to their active lifestyle, resulting in lean meat and their diet, mainly consisting of seeds and fruits. However, ground squirrels consume beyond the standard diet that affects their meat.
Ground squirrels are omnivores that usually consume various items in grassy environments, like nuts, seeds, fruits, and even mushrooms.
Depending on the environment, ground squirrels will also eat bird eggs, small insects, and even snakes. It’s difficult to tell what the diet consists of for an individual ground squirrel.
Still, as long as they mainly function in a forest environment, their meat will is generally considered healthy.
On the other hand, they are considered a pest by farmers and are often exposed to herbicides and pesticides, which affect their blood and meat, making them inedible. Even if the poison did not kill them, it would still be in their system resulting in meat that would be dangerous to consume.
Ground squirrels are also more susceptible to diseases as they tend to carry a lot of fleas, making them unsafe to eat even if the meat is prepared and thoroughly cooked. In addition, ground squirrels tend to be less ideal for consumption than tree squirrels as they are not considered game animals and are therefore not managed as such.
How To Avoid Risk And Diseases When Eating Ground Squirrels
Although ground squirrels are not as ideal for consumption as tree squirrels, they are edible as long as certain precautions are put in place to ensure their meat is at its best.
Let’s look at a few steps hunters can take to avoid unnecessary risks when hunting ground squirrels for consumption.
- Firstly, an essential step is always to freeze the meat when storing them and to always cook it thoroughly before consuming it. More often than not, dangerous toxins can be burned from the meat, making it safe to consume, and freezing the meat when storing it lowers the risk of contamination.
- Secondly, ensure that no chemical control is used to eliminate ground squirrels. A common pesticide used is anticoagulant rodenticides, which linger in the tissue of ground squirrels for months after exposure. The pesticide makes them inedible even if the meat is cooked.
- Thirdly, not only is it ideal to hunt ground squirrels in forest areas due to their diet being cleaner and healthier, but some hunters also argue that hunting during the winter is also more ideal. Ground squirrels are known to hibernate during colder climates making them easier to hunt, and their meat is naturally colder.
- Finally, it’s important to note that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Public Health mentioned that the most significant risk of being exposed to a plague is being surrounded by infected rodents. Ground squirrels tend to carry fleas, and handling them can cause a person to be infected with a plague.
Therefore, thoroughly cooking the meat before consuming it minimizes the exposure risk, but it does not avoid it altogether. Take great care when preparing ground squirrels for consumption.
What Is The Nutritional Value Of Ground Squirrels?
As previously mentioned, the meat of squirrels, in general, is healthy and lean. However, they run the risk of being exposed to herbicides and pesticides and are highly susceptible to diseases.
Regardless, if you can hunt ground squirrels in an ideal environment at an ideal time, their meat holds a lot of benefits for the consumer.
Ground squirrels yield a great benefit of being high in protein but low in calories. The protein is about 30% per 100 grams of ground squirrel meat.
In addition, ground squirrels are low in fat and cholesterol and are considered very tasty. Similar to the meat of a rabbit, ground squirrel meat can be pretty luxurious and enjoyable when paired with the correct dishes.
Due to their diet mainly consisting of fruits and seeds, there are a lot of minerals and vitamins in their meat, making it nutritious and healthy to consume. Although ground squirrels don’t possess a lot of meat, the following is a list of vitamins, minerals, and fibers the average ground squirrel meat has:
- Iron, chromium, biotin, phosphorus, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, manganese, niacin, magnesium, thiamine, vitamin B6, folate, copper, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, selenium, potassium, sodium, phosphorus, chlorine, iodine, and zinc.
Although the amount of meat is far less than the average chicken, the nutritional value far outweighs the amount, and squirrel meat can be a surprising addition to a barbecue or experimental dish.
Although similar to tree squirrels, ground squirrels are not considered game animals and carry far more risk than the average squirrel. However, ground squirrels possess healthy and lean meat if not contaminated with disease.
If the hunting area is free of pesticides and herbicides, ground squirrel meat contains rich levels of minerals and vitamins.
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