Monday, June 9, 2008
Colorado Fox Squirrel: Friend or Foe?
Who can resist a pretty face? Certainly the Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger) is irresistible. Its eyes are large and appealing, its fur is a ruddy Rufus brown, and its acrobatics are amusing to behold. Does the Fox Squirrel have a dark side though? The state of my Honey Locust tree might seem to suggest so.
Fox Squirrels are one of three species of squirrel in Colorado and the largest in North America. They are arboreal (live in trees) and diurnal (come out several times a day). Their diet consists primarily of seeds, which makes them the bane of backyard bird feeders. In a pinch they will eat insects, bird eggs, flowers, and buds, and when things get really bad, they will eat the bark off of trees. Enter my Honey Locust. Over the last two winters, a squirrel has been systematically eating the bark off of my Honey Locust tree. It is hard to say the level of damage it has done, but it certainly looks atrocious. I was advised to put hot pepper spray on the bark but that only resulted in the little cretin running around with a sombrero on.
I confess when I see my Honey Locust tree I get grumpy. It is certainly the potential financial loss that irks me so. Trees are expensive, and replacing twelve years worth of growth, shade, and privacy is very expensive indeed! At a visceral level, my resident squirrel seems to have taken on the persona of a gangbanger rampaging through the neighborhood, wantonly destroying property. I am ready to cart him off to squirrel juvie.
But then I see how the squirrel taunts both my cat and my dog. Its piercing screech and flapping tail fill me with glee, particularly knowing the cat is getting its comeuppance. My cat has a tendency to hunt for socks and when he finds one, he drags it around the house howling like a banshee. This behavior is particularly annoying at 3am. Anything that annoys the cat is fine with me.
I like squirrels because they have ‘tude! Before moving to this house, I lived in an apartment and lived on the top floor of a 3-story building. Somehow the squirrels managed to climb up the stucco, sit by the kitchen window, and annoy my cat. That was better than Survivor reruns.
I woke up recently one morning, however, thinking about the plague and realized that squirrels are RODENTS and VECTORS of disease. Just this month, 15 rodents were found dead in Denver, Arapahoe, and Jefferson Counties. We are talking the Black Death here, a disease that wiped out half of Europe. My favorite kitty tormentor could be carrying the means of ending civilization, as we know it. Can any pretty face survive that?
So what am I to do? I feel like a super delegate. Too bad the squirrel can’t buy my vote. I guess for now I’ll have to remain conflicted. Isn’t it amazing how much we are willing to overlook for a pretty face and fancy theatrics. It is the tonic of a jaded age.
One of these days I need to take my photographs and turn them into wildlife greeting cards.