You’ve finally got that squirrel to trust you and they’ve eaten the nuts from your hands. Now they approach your fingers and gently nibble and lick your finger. Do they think your finger is food? Are they showing you some squirrel love? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at a squirrel’s behavior and what causes them to lick, chew, and bite.
Why Does My Squirrel Nibble On Me?
They have 4 large incisors that are constantly growing throughout their lifetime, which is why they are always chewing, nibbling, and biting things to help wear down the pressure on their teeth. A squirrel that is nibbling or licking you is most likely showing you affection.
Squirrels are meant to be wild animals, so they are ingrained to bite and scratch. Even if you have domesticated a squirrel, they are still prone to biting and nibbling.
To better understand why squirrels are constantly biting and nibbling, you first have to understand how they use their teeth. We’ll also look at what to do if you do get by a squirrel in public or in your back yard.
What Do Squirrel Teeth Look Like?
As mentioned above, squirrels ave sharp incisors that are constantly growing. Unlike you and I, these rodents use their teeth to sense hardness, texture, density, and even temperature with their teeth.
They have amazing control of their teeth, which makes it easy for them to exert a feather weight nibble, or chomping down with enough pressure to cute all the way down to the bone on your finger.
All squirrels love to bite, even the ones that have been domesticated. It’s not uncommon to watch a YouTube video of someone with a pet squirrel to talk about how playful, their squirrels are and how much they love to “playful bite or nibble” that may even draw blood.
Why Does My Squirrel Lick Me?
According to experts licking is a way that they show affection. Think of this behavior similar to how a dog shows affection. They will lick your legs, face, hands and etc.
Squirrels not only lick, but are known to hold onto fingers, ears, and etc.
So the next time your squirrel gives you a kiss, there’s not reason to get alarmed. It’s just their way of saying “I appreciate you.”
Are Squirrel Bites Harmful?
Yes, squirrel bites can be dangerous, especially, if they bite down hard. Their sharp incisors can cut through thick substances. (think about how easily they can chew through acorns, almonds, peanuts and etc.)
Squirrels are also known to carry diseases, such as:
- Roundworm Brain parasite
- Lyme Disease
- Bacterial and Fungal Infection
Tularemia and leptospirosis are the two infections that can be transmitted to humans.
Humans can become infected through bites, physical contact, and messing with a squirrel corpse. Most people get bit by a squirrel when they are attempting to feed a squirrel.
Wild squirrels can become infected through other animals, insect bites, as well as by drinking contaminated water.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these diseases as well as symptoms to help you better understand your backyard wildlife friends.
Typhus Signs and Symptoms
There have been no causes of Typhus in the United States since the 1950’s, and is extremely rare in developed countries. According to the reported cases in the past, people were infected by flying squirrels.
Out of the 3 cases, none of them had touched the squirrel. Instead, they had either touched the squirrel nest that was in the cabin, or they were bitten by an insect that looked like fleas.
Signs of typhus can include fevers, chills, muscle and joint pains, sweats, severe headaches, and photophobia.
Most healthy people will get better on their own without any medical attention.
Tularemia Signs and Symptoms
Tularemia is an infectious disease that is commonly referred to as deer fly or rabbit fever. It is known to attack the lymph nodes, skin, lungs, and eyes.
It is known to affect mammals such as hairs, rabbits and rodents.
People that become infected with Tularemia are usually exposed via infected animals or insect bites.
While it is highly contagious and fatal, it can be treated with antibiotics if diagnosed early.
Symptoms will vary but you can experience chills, fever, exhaustion, painful and swollen lymph glands, and skin ulcers.
Roundworm Brain parasite
Also known as Baylisascaris, is extremely rare in humans. It is most commonly found in raccoons but squirrels can be carriers.
This condition is transmitted orally through dirt and feces.
The symptoms can vary from liver enlargement, nausea, loss of coordination, blindness, coma, exhaustion, and loss of muscle control.
At the time of this writing, there are no known treatments. If you do become infected, your doctor will most likely prescribe some medications or other treatment options.
When people think about lyme disease, they usually associate it with ticks. However, white tailed deer, mice, chipmunks and gray squirrels can also be infected.
Most people that get exposed to lyme disease are bitten by a tick that attaches to their body for 24 hours to transmit the bacteria.
Symptoms will vary from nothing to fever, stiff neck, body aches, and headaches.
Encephalitis Signs and Symptoms
Encephalitis is very rare and the three people that have contracted it did so from exotic squirrels. It is a virus known as “viral encephalitis” and is caused by fungi, bacteria, or parasites.
Symptoms can be difficult to spot, because they usually start out mildly. The symptoms usually become more serious after several days and can consist of headaches, achey joints and muscle, fever, and nausea.
Some people may experience rashes or blisters on their skin.
If you believe you have been exposed, you will want to seek immediate medical attention.
Do Squirrels Carry Rabies?
One of the first questions people have when they get bit is do squirrels have rabies? It’s easy to panic when you get bit by this small rodent, after all, they are wild animals and most wild animals can easily transmit rabies.
The great news is that most squirrel bites won’t trigger a rabies protocol in a hospital.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t worry about being bit by a wild squirrel. As mentioned above, they can be carriers of several diseases.
What to Do If You Get Bit?
Treat the bite like a regular wound. This means washing it with soap and water. Avoid using Hydrogen Peroxide or Rubbing Alcohol on the wound, as this has been known to hinder the healing process.
If the bite didn’t penetrate the skin, apply an over the counter antibiotic cream or spray, and cover the wound with a clean bandage. Monitor the wound for any infections to ensure that it doesn’t require medical attention.
When To Seek Medical Attention?
You should seek medical attention if you notice any redness, inflammation, oozing, swelling, or increased pain from the bite.
If you get a fever, chills, or flu-like symptoms, you should seek medical attention.
Also, if the bite broke through the skin, you will want to see your doctor to ensure that you don’t need any stitches.
They may also want to perform an examination to ensure you didn’t come into contact with any diseases. (Most likely you’ll be fine, but it doesn’t hurt to check)
What Causes A Squirrel to Bite?
Even though squirrels look adorable and harmless, they are known to bite and attack people, especially, if you approach them. Biting is their defense mechanism if they are frightened or feel cornered.
Most people tend to get bitten when they are attempting to hand feed a squirrel. If you enjoy feeding them, consider using a squirrel feeder or drop the snack on the ground so they can retrieve it.
Of course, some squirrels will attack for no reason. Some diseases such as roundworm brain parasite can cause squirrels to become aggressive.
However, squirrels will only approach people after they’ve been accustomed to feeding humans and no longer fear humans.
Watch this video of squirrels attacking humans.
What Does It Mean When A Squirrel Stares At You?
If a squirrel continues staring at you, they may be trying to determine what your next move is and if they should run. They could also be wondering if you’re going to feed them.
If they feel like you’re getting to close, they will usually take off running for the shelter of their nest.
Final Word On Squirrel Nibbling and Licking
Whether you have a domesticated squirrel or just feeding them in nature, there’s a good chance that you may eventually get bit. If you do get bit, it’s nice to know that you can recover without any long-term effects.
While squirrels are cute, it’s important to know that you need to respect wildlife.
References And Further Reading
NFSA – Does My Squirrel Think My Finger Is Food?
PMC – Cluster of Sylvatic Epidemic Typhus Cases Associated with Flying Squirrels, 2004-2006
Mayo Clinic -Tularemia
CFSH – Lyme Disease
CDC – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Immunopathology of Fatal Human Variegated Squirrel Bornavirus 1 Encephalitis, Germany, 2011-2013