The Incredible Kindness Of The Red Squirrels

 | Grace Higgins

You may be forgiven for thinking squirrels are simple and petty creatures, we often see them fighting each other for little scraps of food and they do always seem to be laughing at us, don’t they? But a new study from the University of Guelph has showcased a softer side that we did not know about before. Squirrels do actually listen and interact with their extended families and sometimes will adopt orphans.

Though they tend to be very altruistic creatures, the red squirrel will still keep track of the calls of other squirrels around and in its area, notably, it keeps track of its extended family. Social animals such as lions or chimpanzees are always surrounded by relatives so it makes sense that they would adopt an orphan but this behavior was unknown before in squirrels.

The study shows that if a red squirrel stops hearing its fellow brother and sister’s calls then it will normally go and investigate. If during its investigation it finds an orphan baby squirrel then it is more than likely to adopt it & help nurse it. This is a big surprise as red squirrels are actually very territorial, and the only time they generally allow another squirrel on their territory is when it is time to mate. This is just one day a year when they allow a female squirrel onto their prized territory, so it is quite strange to see them adopt orphan squirrels.

Of course, these acts of kindness between animals really do warm the heart. However, it has to be said that after two decades of research the team has only come across 5 cases of adoption, so it is a very rare thing to happen.

And it comes down to if the squirrels are related or not, in all cases of adoption the squirrels were nieces, nephews or siblings. Another key factor is the cost of adoption, if the cost is low then the squirrel will adopt the young pup. However, if faced with a harder time where food is scarce then they will not adopt the pup.