Squirrels are one of the most common wild animals found in urban and suburban environments. They are known for their energetic and entertaining behavior, but what happens when you come across a squirrel that is not moving but still breathing? It can be alarming to see a squirrel in such a state, and it is important to understand the reasons behind this behavior. This guide will provide an overview of squirrel biology and behavior, reasons for a squirrel not moving but breathing, what to do if you find a squirrel in this state, and ways to promote squirrel conservation and coexistence.
Overview of Squirrel Biology and Behavior
A. Physical characteristics of squirrels
Squirrels are small to medium-sized rodents that belong to the family Sciuridae. They are typically characterized by their bushy tails, sharp claws, and strong teeth. Some common physical characteristics of squirrels include:
- A body length of 6-12 inches
- A tail length of 6-10 inches
- Weighing between 4-18 ounces
- Fur that can vary in color from reddish-brown to gray
B. Common squirrel behaviors
Squirrels are known for their energetic behavior, such as running, jumping, and climbing trees. They are also social animals that live in communities and communicate with each other through various vocalizations and body language. Some common squirrel behaviors include:
- Foraging for food, including nuts, seeds, fruits, and insects
- Storing food for the winter in caches or burrows
- Building nests, or dreys, in trees or other high places
- Engaging in territorial behaviors, such as chasing away other squirrels or animals from their territory
C. Factors affecting squirrel behavior
Squirrel behavior can be affected by a variety of factors, including:
- Seasonal changes, such as temperature and food availability
- Human activity, such as construction or landscaping
- Predators, such as birds of prey or domestic cats
- Social dynamics within their community
Reasons for a Squirrel Not Moving But Breathing
There are several reasons why a squirrel may not be moving but still breathing. Some of these reasons include hibernation and torpor, illness or injury, fear or stress response, and sunning and resting.
A. Hibernation and Torpor
1. The Concept of Hibernation
Hibernation is a state of dormancy that some animals enter during the winter months. During hibernation, an animal’s metabolic rate and body temperature decrease, and they enter a state of reduced activity to conserve energy.
2. Differences Between Hibernation and Torpor
Torpor is a similar state of reduced activity, but it occurs for shorter periods of time and can happen at any time of year. During torpor, an animal’s metabolic rate and body temperature decrease, but they can still wake up and move around if necessary.
3. How Squirrels Use Torpor to Conserve Energy
Squirrels are not true hibernators, but they do enter a state of torpor during periods of food scarcity or extreme weather conditions. During torpor, squirrels can reduce their metabolic rate by up to 95%, allowing them to conserve energy and survive without food for extended periods of time.
B. Illness or Injury
1. Common Squirrel Illnesses
Squirrels can be susceptible to a variety of illnesses, including:
- Parasites, such as fleas or ticks
- Bacterial infections, such as tularemia or leptospirosis
- Viral infections, such as squirrel pox or West Nile virus
2. Signs of Injury
Squirrels can also suffer from a variety of injuries, such as broken bones, cuts, or bruises. Some signs of injury in squirrels include:
- Limping or favoring one leg
- Difficulty moving or climbing
- Bleeding from wounds
- Disorientation or confusion
3. How to Identify a Sick or Injured Squirrel
A sick or injured squirrel may exhibit some of the following symptoms:
- Lethargy or decreased activity
- Difficulty breathing or wheezing
- Abnormal behavior, such as circling or head tilting
- Loss of appetite or weight loss
C. Fear or Stress Response
1. Reasons for a Squirrel to Feel Threatened
Squirrels can feel threatened by a variety of factors, including:
- Presence of predators, such as birds of prey or domestic cats
- Loud noises or sudden movements
- Human activity, such as construction or landscaping
2. How Squirrels React to Threats
When squirrels feel threatened, they may exhibit some of the following behaviors:
- Vocalizations, such as chirping or barking
- Running or climbing away
- Freezing in place
3. The Freeze Response as a Survival Mechanism
Freezing in place can be a survival mechanism for squirrels, as it can help them avoid detection by predators. Squirrels may remain motionless for several minutes before resuming their normal behavior.
D. Sunning and Resting
1. The Importance of Sunning for Squirrels
Squirrels engage in sunning behavior to regulate their body temperature and dry their fur. Sunning can also provide squirrels with vitamin D, which is important for bone health.
2. How Squirrels Rest During the Day
Squirrels rest during the day by curling up in their dreys or in a protected area, such as a hollow tree or brush pile.
3. The Role of Sunning and Resting In Squirrel Behavior
Sunning and resting are important components of squirrel behavior, as they help squirrels conserve energy and maintain their health.
What to Do if You Find a Squirrel Not Moving But Breathing
If you come across a squirrel that is not moving but still breathing, it is important to assess the situation and determine if the squirrel is in immediate danger.
A. Assessing the situation
1. Determining If the Squirrel Is In Immediate Danger
If the squirrel is in immediate danger, such as being in the middle of a busy road, it may be necessary to intervene to prevent further harm.
2. Observing the Squirrel’s Surroundings
If the squirrel is not in immediate danger, it is important to observe its surroundings to determine if it is resting or sunning, or if it may be sick or injured.
B. When to intervene
1. Guidelines for Intervening With Wildlife
It is generally not recommended to intervene with wildlife unless they are in immediate danger or are sick or injured. If you do need to intervene, it is important to do so safely and to minimize stress on the animal.
2. How to Safely Approach a Squirrel
If you need to approach a squirrel, it is important to do so slowly and calmly to avoid causing stress or injury to the animal. It is also important to wear gloves and to handle the squirrel as little as possible to minimize the risk of transmitting diseases.
C. Contacting a wildlife professional
- The role of wildlife rehabilitators: Wildlife rehabilitators are trained professionals who specialize in caring for sick, injured, or orphaned wildlife. They can provide medical care and rehabilitation to help the animal recover and return to the wild.
- How to locate and contact a local wildlife professional: If you need to contact a wildlife professional, you can search online for local wildlife rehabilitators or animal control services. You can also contact your local animal shelter or wildlife rescue organization for assistance.
Promoting Squirrel Conservation and Coexistence
Squirrels play an important role in ecosystems, and it is important to promote their conservation and coexistence with humans.
A. Importance of squirrels in ecosystems
Squirrels play a key role in seed dispersal, as they bury and store nuts and seeds, which can then grow into new plants. They also serve as a food source for predators, such as birds of prey and coyotes.
B. Ways to support squirrel populations
You can support squirrel populations by:
- Providing food sources, such as bird feeders or squirrel feeders
- Planting native plants and trees that provide food and habitat for squirrels
- Avoiding the use of pesticides and other chemicals that can harm squirrels and their food sources
C. Tips for coexisting with squirrels in urban and suburban environments
You can coexist with squirrels in urban and suburban environments by:
- Securing trash cans and compost bins to avoid attracting squirrels
- Protecting gardens and plants with netting or fencing
- Avoiding feeding squirrels by hand, as it can lead to dependence and aggressive behavior
In conclusion, squirrels are fascinating and important animals that play a key role in ecosystems. If you come across a squirrel that is not moving but still breathing, it is important to assess the situation and determine if the squirrel is in immediate danger or may be sick or injured. If you need to intervene, it is important to do so safely and to minimize stress on the animal. By promoting squirrel conservation and coexistence, we can ensure that these important animals continue to thrive in our communities.