Neighborly Squirrels

Photo of red squirrel in tree.

Won’t you be my neighbor… said the SQUIRREL?! 

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Harsh winters, hungry predators… Life is tough for red squirrels in the Yukon! They’re an extremely territorial bunch — each squirrel fends for itself and defends its turf. But could these scrappy little rascals get by with a little help from their friends?    

Erin Siracusa at the University of Guelph in Canada and colleagues wondered. Using unique ear tags, they tracked over a thousand red squirrels for over TWO DECADES. The researchers measured how long squirrels tended to live next to each other. Then, they compared squirrels’ familiarity with neighbors to their survival rate and number of pups.

Results? For squirrels four years or older, being community-minded increased the chance of survival by OVER THIRTY PERCENT. Friendly male squirrels also sired almost NINETY PERCENT more pups. Well, THEY don’t have to pay for their pups’ college! 

The researchers believe that being neighborly means squirrels can spend less time defending their territory. 

When Mr. Squirrel next door forgets to return the lawnmower, though? All bets are off! 

Reference: Erin R. Siracusa, Stan Boutin, Ben Dantzer, Jeffrey E. Lane, David W. Coltman, Andrew G. Mcadam. Familiar Neighbors, but Not Relatives, Enhance Fitness in a Territorial Mammal. Current Biology, 2020 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.10.072