Thursday, September 27, 2012

Feet & all those dead squirrels

What: I was driving home from Sterling College last night and I hit a young male red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). I felt terrible, but at least it died immediately. I scooped it up and brought it to my CCV Natural History course today to skin with my students. It was neat to be able to see the paw prints up close, to be able to see the palm pads in such detail. All rodents (even beavers, muskrats, mice, voles, capybaras) have five toes in the rear and four in the front. Red squirrels spend a lot more time on the ground relative to grays (Sciurus carolinensis). On the ground, the front feet of reds tend to be offset far more than grays. Think about an animal who spend all that time "perched" on a branch with its feet side by side - when it runs along the ground its front feet keep that side-by-side pattern as seen below.

Red Squirrel                  Gray Squirrel
(ground dwelling)         (tree dwelling)
 H     H          H      H       /\
     f              f  f         ||  H = hind
   f                             ||  f = front

This of course is a tendency and not always true. So in general animals that spend more time on the ground tend to follow the pattern or red squirrels, with front feet landing offset, and animals that spend more time in trees, like gray squirrels, land with feet side-by-side. One of the things reds are doing with all that time spent on the ground is harvesting mushrooms. Look in a stand of hemlocks for mushrooms lodged in the crotch of a branch, left out by red squirrels to dry for a winter supply.

Rear feet, five toes, long flat foot
Front feet, four toes
Front foot, 4 toes, smaller dexterous digits
Ecological notes: Red squirrels spend this time of year in search of a territory to defend over the winter, when food resources are drastically reduced. Fall dispersal of yearlings is always a rough time for animals, with lots and lots more road kill this time of  year than at others. Below are the feet I got from a raccoon (Procyon lotor) that was road kill just north of Stowe. I surprised at how much fat was stored up in the tail.

Raccoon feet (rear feet on outside, front on inside)
Where: North Wolcott along the Wild Branch


  1. Looks like some darkening of the paws on the red - from the walnut dying them??

    1. I was surprised at how reddish purple it was. The dye tends to be more of a greenish brown orange on my fingers. My next post I'll put up some shots of another squirrel whose face was all covered in dye.