The Show-Me State consists of a variety of ecosystems, including forests, wetlands, grasslands, prairies, and savannas, making it an excellent habitat for different species of tree and flying squirrels. The four species you’ll find throughout the state are Eastern Gray, Fox Squirrel, and Southern Flying Squirrel. These critters are vital to the ecosystem, so let’s take a closer look at them.
Types of Squirrels in Minnesota
Missouri is home to the ground, tree, and the Southern flying squirrel. The state consists of 15 million acres of forestland, making it a prime location for squirrels and other wildlife.
Let’s take a closer look at the the native and non-native squirrels throughout the state.
Fox and gray squirrels are the most commonly found squirrels and can be found in different habitats throughout the state.
- Gray squirrels: Gray squirrels are abundant in the Ozark and Mississippi Lowland region.
- 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.
The Prairie Parkland region consists of some of the following regions:
- Boreal Hardwood Transition
- Eastern Broadleaf Forest
- Tallgrass Aspen Parklands
The Prairie Parkland (PPA) Province traverses most of the western part of the state, extending northwest into Manitoba, west into South and North Dakota, and south into Oklahoma, Kansas, and other states.
Missouri is home to 3 types of ground squirrels. The thirteen-lined squirrel is the most abundant ground squirrel, seen along roads, urban areas, and agricultural lands.
While not as commonly seen as their tree and ground-dwelling counterparts, Minnesota is home to the southern flying squirrel. It is smaller than their cousins, Northern Flying Squirrels.
Most people will never see one because these nocturnal animals live in oak-hickory forests like the Ozark Highlands.
That said, they will visit birdhouses in urban areas but are rare sightings due to their nocturnal nature.
Habitats and Ecology
Woodlands and Forests
In Minnesota, you will find various types of squirrels in woodlands and forests. Several pest control companies say the fox squirrel is the most common species in urban and open woodlots.
Missouri’s diverse landscape is home to various wildlife, including squirrels. These forests have mature oak, hickory, walnut, elm, and maple trees. Some of the state forests that are home to squirrels, chipmunks, and other wildlife are; Lone Star Tract State Forest, Blair Creek, Cedar Grove, etc.
That said, climate changes and urbanization has enabled squirrels and other animals to adapt to urban environment survival.
Urban and Suburban Areas
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 become a nuisance to some homeowners, and the state now classifies some of 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 each type of squirrel’s behavioral and dietary preferences.
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: Southern flying squirrels can be found in the state, mainly in the Ozarks Highlands, but have been spotted in urban environments foraging bird feeders. 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.”
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 Missouri Department of Conservation, habitat loss, fragmentation, and competition with non-native species will eventually lead to the endangerment of the Southern flying squirrel.
As a Missourian, 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 challenges, 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 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 Missouri’s squirrel population and contributing to their habitats’ overall well-being.
Missouri is home to several types of wildlife, including the Fox, Gray, and Southern flying squirrels. The fox and gray squirrel are the most common, and the state allows licensed hunters to hunt them to control the population.
Whether you like squirrels or not, they play an essential role in maintaining the balance of a healthy habitat.