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Over 200 species of squirrels live throughout the world, with many different species residing within the United States. The United States is home to five different types of squirrels; fox, gray, red, flying and ground. Some live in the trees, some live in the ground and others appear to fly. Tree squirrels generally have bushy tails, sharp claws and large ears, while ground squirrels have shorter legs and less bushy fur. Flying squirrels have a furred membrane between their wrists and ankles that allow them to glide between trees.
Two species of gray squirrels inhabit the United States, the western gray and the eastern gray. The eastern gray squirrel normally inhabits the northeastern United States, although it has invaded the western United States, as well as Europe. The western gray squirrel lives in three separate locations along the western coast. Both of these large squirrels appear in a variety of colors, which include black, gray, brown, cream and red.
Fox squirrel species live throughout most of the United States, excluding the eastern coast. It is the largest type of squirrel ranging from 17 to 27 inches long. These large squirrels come in two distinct color groups. One has dark fur in variable shades from black to gray and tan or gold undersides. These dark-colored squirrels have black heads with white noses, ears and feet. The other color is reddish, tan or orange. The red fox squirrels have no white markings.
Little red squirrels are about half the size of gray squirrels. These small tree squirrels have fur that is gray-red in the winter and orange-red in the summer with a white belly. During the winter months, red squirrels will grow tufts of fur on their ears. When other animals enter their territory, they tend to chatter or whistle loudly at such invaders. Red squirrels, also known as pine squirrels, live in the colder northern states and prefer living in pine forests.
Many species of ground squirrels inhabit the United States. These small rodents prefer to excavate burrows in open habitats such as prairies. The white-tailed antelope squirrel of southwestern United States is the smallest species, weighing only 3.4 to 4 ounces. Some more common species include the California ground squirrel, the thirteen-lined ground squirrel, and the spotted ground squirrel. Due to destructive burrowing and chewing, these species can sometimes cause great damage to gardens.
The United States is home to two species of flying squirrels, the northern flying squirrel and the southern flying squirrel. The northern flying squirrel is the larger of the two squirrel species. Usually, it lives in the higher elevations of Alaska, California, Arizona, Michigan and the Appalachian and Adirondack mountains. Southern flying squirrels are found in the eastern half of the United States in lower elevations down through Florida (wild). These very small squirrels may outnumber gray squirrels, although their nocturnal living habits make them nearly impossible to find.
- University of Michigan, Animal Diversity Web: Sciuridae Squirrels
- Massachussetts Audubon: Eastern Gray Squirrel
- Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife: Washington State Recovery Plan for the Western Gray Squirrel
- South Carolina Department of Natural Resources: Southern Fox Squirrel
- Minnesota Department of Natural Resources: Red (Pine) Squirrel
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Ground Squirrel
- State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry: Northern Flying Squirrel
- Maryland Department of Natural Resources: Southern Flying Squirrel
- John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images