How many squirrels are there in Central Park? The NYT investigates

squirrel map

A portion of the adorable squirrel map, as created by an editor at the NYT. We don’t have black squirrels in Austin, and I have to admit, I miss them.

One intrepid graphics reporter decided to find out, putting together this nifty, visually-driven census count in the New York Times.  (I love it so much I had to dust off my  neglected squirrel blog and do a post!)

“It wasn’t easy. Squirrels move quickly, and it can be hard to judge what color they are.”

Amen, sister.

Moans, kuks, quaas. New (and terrific) words to me. These are the squirrel noises she had to track.

Here in Austin, we have at least two squirrel families and several cantankerous males that live in our eight Live Oak trees (they are Eastern fox squirrels, though, not gray squirrels like those in NYC).

As Live Oak trees tend to do, their branches are all interconnected at the top amongst themselves and our neighbors’ trees, forming a canopy, AKA a squirrel highway. Every hour of the day, I can look out my office window and see one resting or frolicking on a tree branch, often while moaning, kuking or quaasing (I assume these sounds can be gerund verbs? If not, they should be.)

So just how many did they squirrel census counters find? You’ll have to read the piece to see the final tally.

New York Times gives a letter of recommendation to squirrels, and we couldn’t agree more

One of our many industrious squirrel neighbors in Astoria, Queens.

One of our many industrious squirrel neighbors in Astoria, Queens.

Love this column from Avi Steinberg: Letter of Recommendation: Squirrels. Definitely golden acorn worthy.

“Squirrels… live on our level and toil on the same schedule as humans, in every season. They share our approach to life’s problems: They save and plan ahead, obsessively. They make deposits and debits (of nuts and seeds, mostly); build highways (returning to well-known routes in and around trees); manage 30-year mortgages (they can inhabit a single nest for that many years); refrigerate their staples (in their case, pine cones); and dry their delicacies for storage (mushrooms, as we do). They work the day shift and live in walk-up apartments. And like stock traders, they gamble in the marketplace. While most animals breed as food becomes available, squirrels have developed the ability to predict a future seed glut and reproduce accordingly, like bullish investors.”


It’s a thing: Squirrels building nests in people’s cars during winter

Yuck! The poor people of Winnipeg, Canada, have a growing grody problem on their hand: mice and squirrels infesting cars and trucks during the winter, according to the Brandon Sun newspaper.

The reason? They’re dry, safe and full of human food.

“It’s food, inside on the carpets, inside the baby car seats. That’s what attracting mice,” Entomologist Taz Stuart told the paper.

(This immediately reminded us that our toddler’s car seat is currently festooned with many, many stale Goldfish crackers…and the last thing we want to deal with is a mouse infestation in our car.)

For squirrels, the nest building seems more likely to occur under the hood, hidden away:

RSVP, and bring your own twigs

Wow: 13-lined ground squirrels endures winter by packing fat *into* heart

Denver 2009 - Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrel 01

A thirteen-lined ground squirrel going on a fat binge. Photo

The editorial staff of Squirrels, Squirrels, Squirrels has visited Minnesota in December. So, we’re only partially surprised to read the findings of a cool study out of Duluth, which examines how the 13-lined ground squirrel hibernates without becoming a completely frozen solid squirrel-sicle.

(I mean, these cute critters of course have fur and can huddle together in their little hidey-holes, but still, when it’s -40 outside, …it seems like only White Walkers should be alive and in the mood for napping, while everyone else gets on an RV and heads to South Padre Island.)

Anyway, how do they do it? It takes extreme metabolism to counter the extreme weather. Precisely, they literally store fat in their hearts, and then slowly burn off that fat all winter long. Yes, it sounds counter-intuitive to long-term survival (equivalent to a human eating a triple-bacon cheeseburger for every meal), but the long starvation following their autumn pig-out creates a metabolic state known as “ketosis,” and that apparently brings them good tidings, cheer and above-average longevity compared to similar non-hibernating species.

Lest you wonder why the hell anyone cares, Katharine Gammon, writing in Chemical & Engineering News, clears that right up for you:

“Eventually, this knowledge may help researchers develop ways to protect heart tissue from the harmful effects of free radicals that are produced after a heart attack.”

So there. Squirrel research saving lives.

Botany bulletin: So apparently oak trees go nutty every few years, and 2015 is one of them

A squirrel enjoying a masting?   Photo by Hills_Alive

The Albany Times-Union has an excellent write-up on the far-reaching ramifications of a masting, the awkward botanical term for a regional over-supply of acorns. Apparently, 2015 is a “masting” for the oak trees of the Northeast. (It does seem this way in my little corner of Queens, where walking under the gargantuan, smog-fed oak trees can leave one a little fearful of an acorn-related skull fracture.)

Why 2015? It seems to be related to optimal weather conditions, and the necessity is driven by survival: Acorns are so appealing to wildlife that oak trees have to over-compensate to guarantee a few won’t get eaten by critters.

“…Acorns are so tasty, such a nutritious food resource, so many animals like them, that if they produce a few every year every single one of them would be eaten up,” a biologist said.

And, at first this all sounds like a net positive: More acorns + more squirrels + more oak trees  = more fodder for Squirrels, Squirrels, Squirrels.

But alas! There’s a dark side. We’ll not give away the spoiler, because the newspaper did all the hard work and we’re a firm believer in giving credit where credit is due. So check it out for yourself: This year’s acorn cascade has hidden impact

And, in celebration of the masting, here’s some gorgeous pictures celebrating all things acorny.

A woodpecker prepping for the apocalypse:
Acorn Woodpecker m.

Still life with acorns:
Fresh acorns

Convincing proof that the universe is just one giant, ever-expanding acorn:
Quercus rubrum, acorn cap, ontario_2014-08-08-10.51.08 ZS PMax

The perfect cake for sending to the authors of SqSqSq:bûche de noël - oak leaves & acorns