Squirrels are naturally active. They do different activities on land or in trees, from climbing, hopping, and munching on their favorite food, which some people find adorable. With this in mind, people also wonder how long do this quickly-moving creature lives.
How long do squirrels live? In the wild, squirrels typically have a 6 to 12 years lifespan. However, they can live between 10 and 20 years in captivity, which is a substantially longer lifespan. Nonetheless, numerous factors can affect a squirrel’s longevity, such as habitat. predator and disease.
Their vulnerability to predators also plays a part in determining how long they can live. With this said, the lifespan of a squirrel in the wild versus in captivity varies a lot. To know about this case better, you may refer to the additional information below.
Squirrels in the Wild vs. In Captivity
Squirrels’ lifespan typically lasts longer in captivity since they no longer have to deal with their predators in the wild. Nonetheless, if the captivity environment is quite stressful, squirrels might not last that long either in captivity.
On the other hand, in the wild, squirrels have to fight for their lives to survive. There are predators everywhere, so they’re typically vulnerable to attacks from their enemies.
Those that survive the first year of their lives in the wild can live up to six to twelve years. This is because they have grown to learn how to withstand the challenges in the wild, constantly facing life threats from their predators.
So, how long do squirrels live in the wild and captivity, based on their species? Let’s find out!
Factors That Affect a Squirrel’s Lifespan
A squirrel’s lifespan can be dramatically impacted by its natural habitat. Squirrels generally have a higher chance of surviving and living longer if they live in locations with plenty of food sources, sufficient shelter, and few predators. Additionally, squirrel size is also influenced by its habitat.
The species of a squirrel is another aspect that influences how long it lives. For example, Red squirrels can live 5-8 years. On the other hand, Black squirrels can live 6-18 years. This will be covered in more detail later on.
A squirrel’s lifespan is also influenced by the climate where it lives. Because they are unable to retain as much fat as their warmer-climate counterparts, squirrels that live in colder regions have shorter lifespans. They are less likely to mature and are more vulnerable to predators.
Level of predation
Due to their small size and natural habitat, squirrels are threatened by a variety of predators, such as larger animals, birds of prey, and snakes. The populations of squirrels are greatly impacted by these predators, especially young squirrels who have a decreased chance of surviving their first year.
Diseases could reduce a squirrel’s lifetime. Some of them are the following:
- Parvovirus – An illness that spreads quickly. Dehydration and severe diarrhea are the results. Young squirrels are frequently killed by it.
- Distemper – A viral illness known that can affect a squirrel’s neurological system, gastrointestinal tract, and respiratory system.
- Botulism – Squirrels that have this bacterial disease may experience respiratory failure, paralysis, and weakened muscles. It frequently results from consuming tainted food or drink.
- Tularemia – This is a bacterial infection. It can affect squirrels and result in fever, ulcers, weakness, swollen lymph nodes, and other symptoms. Exposure to diseased animals or tainted water is a common cause.
The Squirrels’ Lifespan Based on Their Species
|In the Wild
|Southern Flying Squirrels
|Eastern Fox Squirrels
|Western Gray Squirrels
When it comes to squirrels’ lifespan, different species and environments mean varied lifespans.
The Red Squirrels
Red squirrels mature when they’re two to four years old. They can last up to five years in the wild and eight years in captivity.
Nonetheless, gender also affects how long they can live. In the red squirrel species, the male lives longer than the female squirrel, which is the opposite of most squirrel species.
This species is typically seen throughout the U.S., in the Rocky Mountains, forests of Alaska, and north of Georgia’s east coast. You can identify them through their striking characteristics:
- Bushy, dark red with white traces on tails
- Thick eye ring with a white circle around their black eyes
- Their body is about 12 inches in length, with red, rust, or grayish-colored fur and a white belly
- A black stripe can also be seen on their sides.
In the case of ground squirrels, they only have around two to four years of life in the wild. A female can last up to four years, while a male can only live for two years.
On the other hand, they can have a longer life in captivity of about seven years. They can mostly be found in North America, Eurasia, and Africa.
You can easily identify them apart from other squirrels since they love to search above the ground and near their dens. You can also notice the following characteristics in them:
- Mottled brown color tails with white and gray markings
- Gray, white, and light brown belly color
- Their body is around 14 to 20 inches in length, including their tails
- Bushy tails and prominent erect ears.
Many of the black squirrel species can be found in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Michigan. They can also be found in Ontario and Britain.
Their hair color also varies, depending on the melanin level in their bodies. This species can live up to six years in the wild and 18 years in captivity.
The following characteristics can help you recognize the black squirrels apart from other species:
- Black fur
- 15-20 inches in length.
Southern Flying Squirrels
Southern flying squirrels are native species in North America and can be seen widely in the eastern United States. You can see them from Minnesota South to Texas and Maine South to Florida.
They’re about 10 to 12 inches long and could live up to 3 to 5 years in the wild and 10 years in captivity.
You can distinguish them by their given features:
- All-white belly fur
- Gray-brown coat color.
Eastern Fox Squirrels
The eastern fox squirrels are part of the squirrel family in Missouri. They can either be grayish or reddish-yellow in color.
They’re known for their long lifespan in the wild, which is eight years. Meanwhile, in captivity, they can last up to 18 years.
You can recognize them apart from the other species with the following characteristics:
- White belly and tail fringe
- The back and sides of their body are reddish yellow mixed with gray in color
- They’re about 21 inches in length.
Western Gray Squirrels
Western gray squirrels are native to tree squirrels of Washington that are 24 inches long. They can be found in Oregon, Washington, and some parts of Nevada.
The longest recorded lifespan of a western gray squirrel is 12 years in the wild and 20 years in captivity. You can distinguish them through the following features:
- Long, bushy white-edged tails
- Reddish-brown back (during winter)
- Prominent ears
- Long tails.
Abert’s squirrels are typically found in the areas of north-central Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, other parts of Wyoming, and New Mexico. They can live up to seven to eight years in captivity and three to four years in the wild.
You can distinguish them apart from other squirrels species by seeing the following distinctive features:
- Long tassels of fur in the ear
- Their fur is gray on the sides, white on the belly, and reddish in the back
- Busy tails with white fur
- Long rear paws
- Strong hind legs.
Compared to other rodents, squirrels live a much longer life. How do they do that? Let’s find out!
How Do Squirrels Live Longer Than Other Rodents?
Compared to other rodents, squirrels are quite clever and fast. They have quick reflexes and are particularly exceptional at climbing and jumping.
They also have excellent eyesight that helps them see their predators right away from a distance. Through this, they can escape promptly from their predators before they can harm them.
They’re highly intelligent creatures that communicate with each other through scent markings and vocalizations. They can also evade potential dangers by using their tails as a signaling tool to warn other squirrels of a possible threat.
When it comes to survival, they surpass other rodents in their ways. For example, they pretend to bury their stash of food in an area, but actually, they’re just faking it.
It’s one of their ways to fool the onlookers that might steal their food. While others may starve for the lack of food during winter, squirrels have more than enough food to survive the frosty season.
List of Sources
Saunders, D. A. (1988). Red Squirrel. SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
Quinn, N., Dimson, M., Baldwin, R. (2018). Ground Squirrel. University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Abert’s Squirrel. National Park Service.
Eastern Gray Squirrel and Eastern Fox Squirrel. Missouri Department of Conservation
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