Squirrels may not seem like aggressive or territorial creatures. Still, it’s important to remember that, as with most other animals, their behavior will be the same. If you have seen a squirrel acting strangely, you may wonder if this has anything to do with territorial behavior. Do squirrels have territories, and how do they mark them?
Most species of squirrels are highly territorial, with some exceptions. Squirrels will mark or establish their territory by chasing each other, showing other signs of aggression, being vocal, stripping specific pieces of bark, or spaying to mark territory with their scent.
If you consistently notice the same squirrel or two visiting your park or garden, you may wonder why. If you want to know about the territorial behavior of squirrels and how they will mark these territories, be prepared to learn a lot!
Do Squirrels Have Territories?
Most squirrels are highly territorial, including Glaucomys sabrinus, more commonly known as the Northern flying squirrel.
American red squirrels, Tamiasciurus hudsonicus, are also highly territorial. However, some other species, such as the grey squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis, and the fox squirrel, Sciurus niger, are much less territorial, if territorial at all.
Eastern gray squirrels may fall in the middle of territorial behaviors, as they may not be territorial. Still, they will establish dominance towards each other.
Do Squirrels Live Alone?
Adult tree squirrels, including foxes and American reds, usually live alone.
When temperatures plummet, Grey squirrels may form small clans known as “dray” or “scurry” of adults that share the same territory for warmth and comfort.
During the breeding season, they will pair up for a mating cycle. Once the pups are born, the male is kicked out. Then the mother raises the babies on her own, and they are ready to leave the nest once they are around 12 weeks of age.
Why Are Some Squirrels Territorial?
When an area is home to many squirrels, it means that the food resources will become limited due to high demand.
For this reason, the competition for food resources and shelter will increase. This will result in squirrels becoming highly territorial. The dominant ones usually try to eliminate the less dominant ones through territorial behavior.
Each squirrel will claim a territory ranging from one to seven acres. Still, some squirrels claim up to ten acres for themselves!
These territories are used for foraging for food and raising their young.
Squirrels have many ways to mark their territory, so other squirrels stay away. Although some of these behaviors may seem funny or cute to us, it’s a serious and full-time job for squirrels!
How Do Squirrels Mark Their Territory?
Squirrels have several creative ways to mark their territory. If you’ve ever seen a squirrel defending its particular space, you’ve likely noticed one or many of the following behaviors:
By Showing Aggression
The most common signs of a squirrel protecting and marking its territory will include the basic signs of aggression.
When a squirrel wants to show another squirrel, or several squirrels, that they should leave its territory, you may see this rodent growling, chattering its teeth, or even stamping its feet.
You may also see squirrels physically fighting each other, including biting, nipping at each other’s tails, or scratching each other in the chest or face areas.
Squirrels use physical aggression to protect their territories from other squirrels. That said, it’s easy to confuse playing with aggression, especially if you’re unfamiliar with their behaviors.
By Chasing Each Other
Apart from squirrels nipping or biting each other, they will also mark their territories or show other squirrels that an area is theirs by chasing them away from certain areas.
Although some young squirrels will also show this type of behavior to play with each other, adult squirrels will chase each other to assert dominance over a territory.
If you have noticed two or more squirrels spiraling and running up and down or around a tree, this is a sure sign of a fight over territory.
By Being Vocal
Apart from squirrels being highly territorial, they are also known to be highly vocal. When a squirrel enters an unknown territory owned by another squirrel, it will be viciously greeted by the others.
The noises made by squirrels showing territory are known as screaming or screeching. If you hear squirrels screeching in the distance, it is most likely due to a territorial dispute or marking.
By Stripping Bark
Have you ever noticed strips of bark missing from a tree you know are frequented by squirrels? This is a sure sign that the tree and the entire area are marked by a squirrel.
Although squirrels are known to damage trees to the point of no return or by destroying trees to nest in them, they also use trees to show or mark their territory to other groups of squirrels.
Gray squirrels are most known for using this method to mark their territory, where they will chew a huge vertical strip and rip it off from a large old tree.
This allows them not only to show a visual display that the territory has been marked, but by ripping off the piece of bark, they will also leave their scent behind.
Any squirrel passing this ripped-off strip of bark will stop and smell to tell who has been around.
Many squirrels will also add their own marks by stripping off other pieces of bark from the same tree.
Many groups of squirrels who live in this territory will maintain these marks on the same tree for generations!
Squirrels Will Mark Their Territory With Their Scent
A huge part of squirrels marking their territory consists of using their scent. Therefore, using their scent is seen as the most active and effective way to mark and defend their territory.
Squirrels have two main ways to use their scent to mark their territories, such as using their urine and their sweat glands located close to their mouth. As they move along their territory, they will urinate and stop to rub their glands against plants, trees, or even the ground.
If you have ever seen two squirrels meeting and placing their hands on each other’s shoulders, this is a way for them to sniff each other’s sweat glands.
Although it may seem like the two squirrels are sharing a special moment, one is showing the other it’s in its territory.
Squirrels are known to be highly territorial, and they have several ways to mark their territory.
From chasing each other and being vocal to stripping bark and leaving their scent, marking their territory is integral to a squirrel’s life.
Marking territory is essential for many animals. Understanding how they do this can help us understand more about them and their habits. It also helps us appreciate the wildlife around us even more!
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