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In the ground or up a tree?

This article first appeared in the July 10, 2020 edition of the Davis Enterprise.

In the ground or up a tree?

California Ground Squirrels have a distinctive speckled pattern and a cape of lighter fur. Dana Point Harbor, California. Photo by Thomas O'Brien

In the ground or up a tree?

By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise

You can find squirrels in almost every park climbing and chasing each other around the trees.  There are three varieties of tree squirrels that can be found in California: the eastern fox squirrel, eastern gray squirrel, and the western gray squirrel, with the western gray being the only one of the three that are native to California.  There is also another type of squirrel that lives under the ground.  The California ground squirrel is also a native species found primarily in California and Oregon but has also been spotted in parts of Washington and Nevada.  Although all of these squirrels look very similar, they live very differently.

All three types of tree squirrel live high up in trees away from most predators.  They live in holes in trees or build a little nest out of twigs to rest in.  Like their name suggests, ground squirrels live underground.  They dig their own burrows and live in family groups with numerous entries and exits.  Tree and ground squirrel varieties consume the same foods of seeds, nuts, fruits, and occasional insects.  While tree squirrels store food to use during the winter, ground squirrels hibernate in their burrows during the cold, rainy months.

When faced with predators, all types of squirrels use their speed to run and evade being caught.  Tree squirrels retreat up trees to get out of reach of dogs, coyotes, even large birds of prey.  Ground squirrels will run down into their burrows for protection from the same predators but can be pursued by snakes.  If cornered by a snake, a ground squirrel will raise its tail and shunt blood to it to make themselves seem bigger to the snake who detects infrared radiation to hunt.  A ground squirrel will also swish its tail to distract the snake and might escape if the snake strikes at the tail instead of the body of the ground squirrel.

The campers in our Animal Adventurers camp this week were able to see both tree and ground squirrels while attending our Summer Science Camps.  Mace Ranch Park has numerous large trees for the tree squirrel species to live and gather food in, as well as a ground squirrel colony under the native wildlife area.  There are spaces still available in our August Summer Science Camps!  Registration available online at  Camp registration closes two weeks prior to the beginning of each camp.


Explorit's coming events:


•       Explorit Science Center has been providing hands- on science opportunities in Davis for 38 years!  Like many small businesses the closures have had a significant impact on our income.  Now is a great time to consider a donation to help Explorit continue to educate and inspire the scientists of tomorrow:


•       Continue to support Explorit during this uncertain time by becoming a member.  Membership grants you free visits to Explorit’s regular public hours, discounts on events, camps, and workshops, and gives you ASTC benefits.  For more information or to purchase or renew your membership visit or call Explorit at 530-756-0191.



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