Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

January 25, 2010

Squirrel Thoughts No. 28

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 11:48 pm

I took another set of fox squirrel pictures last week because there wasn’t anything else to shoot. It was a beautiful bright winter day with nothing moving about. I came upon this plump creature feasting upon clumps of rich red Highbush Cranberry berries. It appeared as if he was enjoying every luscious bite although he wasn’t after the fruit itself.  The blood red berry juice was dribbling down his paws as he plucked the seeds from each fruit in the cluster – discarding the rest. Below the cranberry bush the snow was covered with spattered red patches. It looked like the aftermath of some horrendous crime.

Apart from the fact that it was a bit unusual to see a squirrel eating this vomitous tasting fruit, there was nothing unusual about this scene. It wasn’t a murder scene, it was only a sloppy feeding scene. The whole thing made for a cute shot, I’ll grant you, but I’m not sure the world needs another cute feeding squirrel picture. Squirrels are always eating and they are very often “cute” while doing it.  So, you ask, why did I bother publishing this one? Frankly, the whole scene reminded me of something I recently read in the paper.

I was looking over the Sunday edition of the outdoor page from the Detroit News. Granted, the paper was an older edition– Nov. 22, 1931 to be exact – so none of the news was topical.  A story headline tucked into the center of the far left column caught my eye. “Fox Squirrel Kills Dog,” the large type declared. The sub-title explained “Farmer finds both animals dead: signs point to struggle.”  Now, how could I ignore such a story?

There was plenty on the page to compete with the squirrel article. It was located just above a fascinating piece about Beaver ranching (dam that was good) and a few columns over from another article titled “A Big Mouth but Valueless.”  This last piece wasn’t about politicians, by the way, it was referring to Baleen Whales. Let’s see, there was another one about “How to Bag Lions in the Kalahari” which provided an exact set of instructions reading as follows: “First sift sand through a large sieve, when only the lions will remain. There you place them in a bag carried for that purpose.” No, you don’t read stuff like that in the modern papers.

About the only other article that challenged the squirrel piece was a brief account of a battle between a rattlesnake and a prairie dog on the far right side. Since both of those combatants lived, the ending wasn’t all that exciting. The squirrel and the dog apparently battled to the death. That will trump beaver herding and mad Prairie dogs any day. It reads as follows:

“Portland, Ore. Nov. 21. Lady, a rat terrier that had been a most efficient exterminator of rats on a 70 acre farm near here, made a serious mistake when she opened battle on a very large fox squirrel. When she failed to return from her most recent ramble about the farm her owner went to look for her and found the two, squirrel and dog, lying together in the midst of a blood-soaked battlefield. It is believed that Lady received the wound in her neck that apparently caused her death early in the battle, but fought on only to drop dead herself shortly after killing the squirrel.”

Wow, eh? You can see why my squirrel picture, eating what looked like a fresh piece of bloody dog meat (take another look here and here), reminded me of this dramatic incident. There were a few things about the story that needed some verification, however. Take the size differential between the squirrel and dog, for instance. Fox Squirrels average between 1 – 2 pounds in weight and middle sized rat terriers tend to be in the 6-8 pound range. That terrier should have easily handled that squirrel.  They are ferocious little dogs. There is a record of a single rat terrier once killing 2,501 rats within a seven hour period. One squirrel should have only taken a few seconds to handle.

To be honest, however, the piece never actually mentioned the exact type of rat terrier or the exact meaning of “very large” when referencing the squirrel. Given the fact that so-called Toy Rat Terriers can weigh as little as 4 pounds and that the squirrel might have ingested steroids at some point, the differential is potentially reduced. Also, do you remember the man-killing rabbit in Monty Python’s “Search for the Holy Grail” movie? I’m sure that bunny wasn’t much more than a few pounds in weight. That bunny went for the throat just like the Fox Squirrel in this story, so the plausibility factor is improved for the Oregon story.

The only final hurdle, and it was a big one, was placing a Fox Squirrel in Portland Oregon. This species is not naturally found west of the Great Plains. I thought that perhaps the squirrel in the story was simply misidentified, but found that scenario unlikely. There are four native Oregonian squirrels, but all are pipsqueaks when compared to a healthy steroid ridden Fox Squirrel. I don’t think that even a furious western flying squirrel could kill a terrier even if the dog was unconscious!  No, this fact appeared to present a fault line threatening to break open the whole storyline. But, not to worry.

I found out that Fox Squirrels were imported to various locations along the west coast many years ago. One of the locations where these relocated animals survived is, you guessed it, the Portland, Oregon area! The story was probably true. It was a clear case of a mad immigrant squirrel taking on a native rodent killer. Once again I can believe everything I read in the paper (although I still have trouble with the lion catching thing).


  1. No, you don’t read stuff like this in the modern papers! Nor screamingly funny posts like this in most other people’s blogs. Thanks for the laughs (as well as the info about Fox Squirrels and 1930s journalism).

    Comment by Jackie Donnelly — January 26, 2010 @ 12:52 am

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