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

Another reason not to keep squirrels as pets: A fun little brain infection called Bornavirus

Variegated Squirrel 3

Photo credit: budgora 

Watch out: This cute little guy, who’s native to Central America, could be harboring the deadly “variegated squirrel 1 bornavirus,” which appears to cause a slow, awful-sounding death from encephalitis, at least among three variegated squirrel breeders in Germany, reports Live Science and the European equivalent of the CDC:

“During the prodromal (symptomatic) phase, which lasted for two weeks or longer, the patients presented with fever and shivering, fatigue, weakness and walking difficulties. Due to increased confusion and psychomotor impairment they were admitted to neurology wards where they developed ocular paresis (<–weakness and paralysis in the eye muscles, causing things like crossed eyes and double vision). They rapidly deteriorated within a few days and died after some time in intensive care, despite mechanical ventilation.”

Ouch. We here at Squirrels, Squirrels, Squirrels want to remind readers that yes, while squirrels are abundantly charming and cute, they aren’t great pets for many reasons, including their rare-but-entirely-possible ability to transmit bornavirus to people.

Oh no! Large fluffy fox squirrel threatened by sea level rise

I work for an environmental non-profit, and I know all too well the hazards of escalating carbon emissions and the resulting climate change.

English: 1993-2010 sea level trends(mm/year). ...

Sea level rise: you’re awful. This is data for 1993-2010 sea level trends (mm/year).

Extreme weather like Hurricane Sandy. Ocean acidification wreaking our coral reefs. A shrinking polar ice sheet. Rising sea levels consuming coastlines. Lots of sweat at inappropriate times.

But I had no idea any squirrels were under threat, too. Precisely, the totally adorable yet oddly named Delmarva Fox Squirrel. Already endangered — thanks to its range that overlaps with some of the most populated areas on the planet (the Mid-Atlantic Seaboard) — this poor sub-species of the American Fox Squirrel doesn’t have the best long-range prognosis for survival.

Yes, it does look a lot like other squirrels. Not at all fox-like, except for the tail, perhaps.

The Delmarva Fox Squirrel. Yes, it does look a lot like other squirrels. Not at all fox-like, except for the tail, perhaps?

Delmarva Fox Squirrel (Chincoteague NWR)

Seek higher ground, squirrel friend. (Chincoteague NWR) (Photo credit: stinkenroboter)

Sigh. Well, anyway, here’s the details:
Delmarva animal among most threatened by sea-level rise, group says

All I want for Christmas is 11…red squirrels…a leaping?

See tons more photos on the Daily Mail web site.

See tons more photos on the Daily Mail web site.

Or, even just this one fantastic little guy, dubbed “Ginger Ninja” who can jump great distances. He’s featured in the U.K. Daily Mail. 

If a human could jump the equivalent distance (for our body size), it would be like leaping over a semi truck — from front to back. A useful skill indeed, but we humans are doing pretty good these days, compared to a lot of other wildlife, so we’re satisfied with just admiring the far cuter red squirrel a leaping.


True Story: Squirrel Stalks Man in Forest

A column in the Canton, Illinois Daily Ledger illustrates how smart squirrels are. My guess is the writer encountered a red squirrel, a species that is notoriously entertaining AND territorial, aggressive and noisy. Not to mention totally cute.

“I came upon this squirrel sitting low in a tree branch…. I guess he was too busy eating at the time. Needless to say, I scared the squirrel to death. It went higher in the tree and then proceeded to “scold” me….Well, I tired of its game and moved on. The squirrel, however, had other plans and decided to follow me, barking the whole time. … I then stood and looked at the forest around me. It was about that time that a walnut, still in its casing, crashed to the ground right beside me. The collision with the earth felt as though a small tremor had just moved through. Just another foot and this thing might have knocked me cold.”