"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Squirrel Misconceptions
Copyright © 2005 by Bill Scifres

The fat, old fox squirrel at my ground feeding station six feet outside my work room was so close that I could almost have touched her had it not been for the double glass doors a foot behind the monitor of my computer.

“Tremendous,” even though her sleek beauty was marred by splotchy dark areas of bare skin on her back and about the shoulders.

“It is the workings of nature,” I thought, while silently reminding myself that this fat old girl had sacrificed her own insulation against the vagaries of late-winter nights to prepare a warm, cozy brood chamber of her own hair for the three or four young that soon would arrive. 

 “Wonderful,” I mused . . . the workings of nature. It was good to think the teachings of my outdoor mentors through the years had made me privy to this natural process of nature.

A few days later the same old squirrel and two or three others with similar splotches of bare skin blessed my view as they fed on the smorgasbord of shelled corn and sunflower seed that I daily scattered beneath the large hedge outside my glass doors. The hedge protects both birds and squirrels from my resident hawks.

It was only natural that a nature buff would wonder if this behavior is confined to females, or if macho males of the species might also sacrifice their comfort to make a warm place for the young.

My research turned up no answer for the question.

Rather than leave the question unanswered, or unduly credit the hoary old males (it is said, you know, that they castrate young males of their species) with having great compassion for their young, I opted to put the question before the greatest authority I know on wild critters.

That, of course, would be Dr. Harmon P. Weeks, longtime professor of wildlife-related courses of the Purdue University School of Natural Resources and Wildlife.

I suspect that Dr. Weeks must have stifled at least a snicker when I asked the 64-thousand-dollar question in a telephone hookup. But he let me down as easy as he could.

”I can’t really say about the males,” he said, adding that this loss of hair by squirrels late in the winter probably is due to a condition that is brought about by eating corn that is fermented. It is caused by a thing called gibberellic acid, which can bring about the loss of hair, usually on the backs of squirrels.

Dr. Weeks says the propensity of squirrels to lose their hair in patches large or small  this year may be more prevalent than usual because last summer’s mast crop (nuts, acorns, etc) was far below normal. Squirrels, he said, probably are more dependent on corn than usual this winter.

Although Dr. Weeks could not say that males are affected by this strange acid, he did say that the loss of hair in squirrels can be caused by several other conditions, including mange.

Oh, Yes! Dr. Weeks says the old hunters’ tales that male squirrels castrate young of their species also is a popular misconception.

Charles W. “Charlie” Rice, a retired conservation officer, shot this picture of a squirrel that had lost a great percentage of the hair on its back. Rice lives at Spencer.

FOR THE RECORDS--White River’s West Fork gave up the only two state-record fish taken in Indiana last year. One was a 1.88- pound goldeye that measured 17.5 inches, and was taken by James Harris of Gosport. The other was an 18.42-pound longnose gar taken by Vernon Young Jr., Petersburg. Young’s prize was 53 inches long.

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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