The Land of 10,000 Lakes consists of about 17.6, making it home to diverse wildlife, including different squirrel species. Many people are intrigued by these animals, and they capture our attention in parks, backyards, or while hiking in the woods. Minnesotans will come across various squirrels, including flying, ground, and tree squirrels. Let’s take a closer look at them.
Minnesota is home to tree squirrels and ground squirrels; these include the gray squirrel, the eastern fox squirrel, and northern and southern flying squirrels. Two types of ground squirrels reside in the state: Thirteen-lined ground squirrels and Franklink’s ground squirrel.
These different types of squirrels play essential roles in the ecosystem by dispersing seeds and serving as a food source for predators. As you explore Minnesota’s beautiful landscape, you’ll get a better appreciation for these animals once you understand them better.
Types of Squirrels in Minnesota
As mentioned above, the state is abundant in natural resources, making it home to three types of squirrels, tree, ground, and flying squirrels.
Let’s take a closer look at each species.
Tree squirrels are the most common type of squirrel found in Minnesota. They can be found in different habitats throughout the state.
- Gray squirrels: Gray squirrels are the most abundant species found in hardwood forests, wooded parks, and residential areas throughout Minnesota, especially in the central part of the state. They are omnivores who prefer nuts, seeds, fruit, and insects.
- Red squirrels: Smaller than gray squirrels, red squirrels also inhabit wooded areas and parks. They have distinctive rusty-colored fur and generally prefer conifer forests.
- Fox squirrels: These tree squirrels are larger than the previous two and have a combination of gray and orange fur. They prefer mixed forests with both hardwoods and conifers.
Ground squirrels are small, gopher-like animals that live primarily in open grasslands and developed areas. These squirrels live primarily in Minnesota’s western counties, specifically the Prairie Parkland region.
Minnesota’s Prairie Parkland region includes some of the following regions:
- Eastern Broadleaf Forest
- Tallgrass Aspen Parklands
- Boreal Hardwood Transition
The Prairie Parkland (PPA) Province extends throughout most of the western part of the state, extending northwest into parts of Iowa, Oklahoma, North, and South Dakota.
The thirteen-lined squirrel is the most abundant ground squirrel, which can be seen along roads, urban areas, and agricultural lands.
They have expanded their range in Minnesota, especially in the northeastern region. Thirteen-lined ground squirrels have unique markings on their fur, with 13 distinct lines running from their head to their tail.
While not as commonly seen as their tree and ground-dwelling counterparts, Minnesota has two types of flying squirrels.
- Northern flying squirrels: Live in dense coniferous or mixed forests and can be seen living in the coniferous Olaf forest. Northern flying squirrels are more elusive and nocturnal, making them difficult to spot.
- Southern flying squirrels: These smaller squirrels are found in MHs49 forests in the southern and eastern parts of Minnesota. Similar to their northern cousins, they are also nocturnal and elusive.
They have a unique characteristic – a membrane called a patagium that stretches between their wrists and ankles, allowing them to glide from tree to tree.
By knowing the differences between these various types of squirrels found in Minnesota, you can better appreciate their unique characteristics and behaviors while enjoying the outdoors or observing them in your backyard.
Habitats and Ecology
Woodlands and Forests
In Minnesota, you will find various types of squirrels in woodlands and forests. Eastern Gray Squirrels are the most common critters in Minnesota.
Fox Squirrels have a diet similar to gray squirrels, but they build their nests in oak, hickory, walnut, and pecan trees.
Red squirrels and Northern flying squirrels are more common in northern evergreen forests, whereas Southern flying squirrels prefer Minnesota’s hardwood forests.
Urban and Suburban Areas
Squirrels have adapted well to urbanized environments. They can thrive in city parks, gardens, and areas with abundant trees. Due to their adaptability, this species does not need to live exclusively in natural woodlands.
Their population has evolved to where they have become a nuisance to some homeowners, and the state now classifies them as small game animals.
Grasslands and Meadows
Though not as common, Minnesota’s grasslands and meadows are home to some species of ground squirrels, such as; the Thirteen-Lined ground squirrel. Like their cousins, the tree squirrels and ground squirrels are essential in distributing seeds and aerating soil in these ecosystems.
Behavior and Diet
Below is a look at the behavioral and dietary preferences of each type of squirrel.
As you observe squirrels in Minnesota, you’ll notice they display different foraging patterns. Let’s take a closer look:
- Tree squirrels: The most common types, like gray squirrels and red squirrels, are known for their love of nuts, such as acorns, walnuts, and hazelnuts. They often bury nuts in the ground to save for later, a behavior called caching. This helps them survive the winter months when food is scarce.
- Ground squirrels: Though less common in Minnesota, ground squirrels focus mainly on seeds, insects, and small fruits. They forage close to the ground and rely on their burrow systems to retreat, sleep, hibernate, store food, and raise their young.
- Flying squirrels: Both northern and southern flying squirrels can be found in the state, mainly in the northern evergreen forests. These nocturnal creatures glide between trees in search of fungi, lichen, and sometimes nesting birds or insects.
Each species has its unique social patterns, with some similarities, such as:
- Tree squirrels: Both gray and red squirrels are typically solitary animals, only coming together during mating season. However, during colder months, they may share nests for warmth.
- Ground squirrels: Generally more social and gregarious than tree squirrels, ground squirrels often form loose colonies to help protect against predators and share resources.
- Flying squirrels: These unique creatures are relatively social, often sharing nests (called dreys) with their family members or other flying squirrels of the same sex.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
Mating and Nesting
During the breeding season, which typically occurs between late February and March, you may witness an increase in squirrel activity as they search for mates.
Once a male squirrel locates a receptive female, it will mate, and soon after, the female will begin building her nest.
Tree squirrels, such as the eastern gray squirrel, construct large nests made of leaves and twigs high up in the trees to provide safety and warmth for their offspring, often referred to as a “den.”
Ground squirrels, like the Franklin’s ground squirrel, dig expansive underground burrows for nesting purposes, which can be up to 15-20 feet deep with more than one entrance.
These burrows not only provide shelter for the young but also serve as hibernation sites for adult ground squirrels.
Flying squirrels, on the other hand, prefer to nest in tree cavities or nest boxes. Their unique gliding abilities allow them to easily access these elevated nesting locations.
Conservation and Human Interaction
Threats and Challenges
All wildlife, including squirrels, face different threats and challenges related to conservation and human interaction. This includes challenges such as:
- Habitat loss
- Climate change
- Agriculture (which is contributing to the change in a squirrel’s dietary habits.)
What You Can Do to Help
According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, habitat loss, fragmentation, and competition with non-native species will eventually lead to the endangerment of the Northern flying squirrel.
As a Minnesotan, there are several actions you can take:
- Educate yourself: Learn more about the different types of squirrels in your area and the threats they face. By understanding their needs and the challenges they face, you can make informed decisions on how to help them.
- Plant native trees and vegetation: By planting native trees and vegetation, you’re providing the squirrels with natural food sources, nesting spots, and shelter from predators.
- Provide nest boxes: If you have a yard or access to a suitable area, consider installing nest boxes for squirrels. These provide them additional safe places to rest, raise their young, and escape from predators.
- Avoid using pesticides: Chemicals present in pesticides can cause harm to squirrels and their food sources, so opt for more sustainable and wildlife-friendly pest control methods.
- Slow down when driving: Many squirrels fall victim to car collisions, especially during the fall season when they are collecting food for the winter. Be more careful when driving, particularly in areas where squirrels are common.
By taking these steps, you’re playing a vital role in preserving Minnesota’s squirrel population and contributing to their habitats’ overall well-being.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there any laws or regulations associated with squirrels in Minnesota?
Yes, there are some laws and regulations in place in Minnesota when it comes to squirrel management and hunting. The state classifies gray and fox squirrels as small game animals to help control the population.
All hunters must abide by the rules and regulations, such as license requirements, bag limits, hunting seasons, etc.
Throughout the state, you’ll find several species of squirrels, including gray squirrels, red squirrels, fox squirrels, northern flying squirrels, and southern flying squirrels.
Keep in mind that these squirrels play a vital role in the ecosystem by dispersing seeds, assisting in the growth of new trees, and serving as food for predators.
As you continue your journey to learn more about Minnesota’s squirrels, remember to treat these animals with respect and appreciate their importance in maintaining the balance of the environment.
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