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
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.
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.