10 December 2020

Welcome the new arrival - taxidermied red squirrel or Eurasian red squirrel!

(Sciurus vulgaris Linnaeus, 1758)

The Darwin Museum collection has recently been replenished with a taxidermied red squirrel made by the museum’s taxidermist - Valentina Kubanina.


The Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris Linnaeus, 1758) is a rodent from the Sciuridae family. The only representative of the genus Sciurus in the fauna of Russia.


The squirrel's winter fur is long, soft, and fluffy, while summer fur is harsher, thinner, and shorter. In terms of color variability, the squirrel holds one of the first places among the animals of the Palaearctic. Its color changes seasonally, it varies depending on the subspecies and even within the same population. In summer, mainly red, brown, or dark brown tones dominate, while in winter – colors are more often gray and black, sometimes with a brown tint. The abdomen is light or white. There are melanistic squirrels with completely black fur and albinos, as well as piebald squirrels, whose fur is covered with white spots. According to the winter color of the tail, squirrels are divided into "red-tailed", "brown-tailed" and "black-tailed". In the steppe forests of Western Siberia, gray-tailed squirrels are found.


The size of the squirrels decreases when moving from mountainous regions to the plains, the size of their skull - from south to north and the color brightens towards the center of their geographical range. Black and brown tones of winter fur in the Carpathian, Far Eastern, and Manchurian subspecies are replaced by bluish and ash gray.


The red squirrel is widespread in the boreal zone of Eurasia from the Atlantic coast to Kamchatka, Sakhalin and Japan (Hokkaido island). It was successfully acclimatized in the Crimea, the Caucasus, and Tien Shan. More than 40 subspecies of the red squirrel have been described, differing from each other in color.


The red squirrel lives in all forests of the European part of Russia, Siberia, and the Far East. Around 1923-1924 it was introduced to Kamchatka, where it has become common by now.


The squirrel is a typical forest dweller. Since its diet is based on tree seeds, it prefers mixed coniferous-deciduous forests, which provide the best forage. It also loves mature dark coniferous plantations - cedar forests, spruce forests, fir trees; they like larch forests, thickets of dwarf cedar, and mixed pine forests as well. In the north, where mainly pine and larch woodlands grow, the number of red squirrels is low. In the Crimea and the Caucasus, it prefers gardens and vineyards.


The lifestyle is predominantly arboreal. It easily jumps from tree to tree, steering with its tail. During the snowless period, as well as during the breeding season, it spends considerable time on the ground, where it leaps up to 1 m in length. In winter, it moves mainly among the “treetops”. In case of danger, it hides in trees, usually in the crown. In the midst of winter, it leaves the nest only to feed, and in severe frosts and bad weather, it can sit in the nest for a long time, falling into a semi-drowsy state (however, it never falls into full hibernation, unlike Spermophilus, marmots or chipmunks).


The red squirrel makes shelters only in trees. In deciduous forests, it usually lives in hollows, making there a soft bedding of grass, tree lichens, and dry leaves. When living in Coniferous forests, it builds spherical nests from dry twigs, which are lined from the inside with moss, leaves, grass, wool. The diameter of the nest is 25-30 cm. The squirrel also willingly occupies birdhouses. Males usually do not build nests but occupy empty nests of females or blackbirds, magpies, and crows.

Large migrations of squirrels are mentioned as early as in ancient Russian chronicles. Sometimes they are caused by drought and forest fires, but more often by the shortage of the main forage - seeds of conifers and nuts. Migrations take place in late summer and early autumn. Most often, squirrels migrate not far, to the forest nearby; although sometimes they are capable of migrating long distances - up to 300 km.

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