Squirrels are rodents, but they are far better than rats and mice in terms of cleanliness. They are wild animals, but they can also live closely with humans. No wonder you may see them running around the trees in your neighborhood. Squirrels also have unique and interesting behaviors during courtship and mating season.
What are the mating habits of squirrels? Female squirrels are very picky when it comes to choosing males to mate with. To attract potential partners, they release some scents once they are ready for mating. In most cases, male squirrels compete with each other to win over the female squirrel. Males chasing a female is also one of their mating habits.
Squirrels are categorized into three main types – ground squirrels, tree squirrels, and flying squirrels. In general, ground-dwelling squirrels are social species, while the tree-dwellers are more solitary. Aside from the ones mentioned above, squirrels have other interesting mating habits.
At What Age Do Squirrels Mate?
Squirrels reach their sexual maturity once they are 10 – 12 months old. At this age, males and females become fertile and are now ready for mating. Males can breed throughout the year, while females usually mate twice a year – in the middle of summer (May to June) and the latter part of winter (December to February).
What Do Squirrels Do to Attract a Mate?
Once female squirrels are nearly on their estrus (or oestrus) stage, it means they are now getting ready to accept males. During this time, male squirrels gather near her territory and patiently wait for signals. Amazingly, females in estrus (heat) can attract tons of males even if they are about 500 meters away from her.
On the other hand, if a female squirrel is now ready to mate, she will emit unique scents and do some vocalizations to attract males. The males will then compete with each other to win her heart. They usually end up in violent fights using size and strength, but usually, older males have the advantage over the young ones.
Why Are Squirrels Chasing Each Other?
Squirrels are chasing each other because it is part of their mating ritual. Interestingly, you might think that they are just playing. Once a male smells the scent from the female, he will slowly approach her. The male will sniff her behind and the ground where she sat.
This chasing behavior may be fast or slow, depending on how many times the male will stop chasing the female. If the male has lost interest, he will stop chasing her. If the female still wants him, she will slowly approach him. Females are in estrus for only a day, while the chasing period may last for several hours.
On the other hand, if the male is with the other males, he still has to compete with them, and the female will wait for the winner. In most cases, more than one male will chase a female; sometimes there are even ten of them. Nevertheless, it’s very unlikely that females will instantly agree to mate with a male. If a male squirrel tries to mate a female but she is not yet ready, she will react violently and will attack him, and the male will go away.
What Do Squirrels Do When Mating?
Squirrels are polygynandrous animals, which means that males and females mate with multiple partners several times over the course. Once a female squirrel picks a male to mate with, she will lift her tail up or to the side so the male can mount on her for copulation, which usually lasts for only about a minute or even less.
What Noise Do Squirrels Make While Mating?
As a mating call, the male squirrel will make a “muk muk” sound that resembles a held-in sneeze sound, just like a baby squirrel crying for milk. This soft sound indicates that he is interested in copulating and is not a threat to her. On the other hand, females moan such as “kuks” and “quas” before and after mating.
Note, however, that these sounds are different from the other sounds that squirrels make in other situations. Squirrels make some hissing sounds if predators such as foxes and dogs are approaching them. They also scream, moan, and bark. These sounds also serve as warning signs to other squirrels.
How Long Do Squirrels Stay Pregnant?
The length of the gestation period for squirrels varies, depending on their species, their health condition, litter size, and food availability. But as mentioned above, their mating season is usually from May to June and from December to February. On average, larger squirrel species stay pregnant between 38 and 46 days.
On the other hand, smaller squirrel species stay pregnant for less than 38 days. For squirrels in hotter climates such as Africa, they may give birth 65 days (more than 2 months) after getting pregnant. Meanwhile, the gestation period of speckled ground squirrels is quite short and may last for 23-26 days only.
Do Male and Female Squirrels Stay Together?
Male and female squirrels don’t form pair bonds and they don’t stay together after mating. Despite being communal mammals, male squirrels don’t usually live with females. Instead, males leave them even before they give birth, and they search for another female to mate with. But sometimes, they may mate again.
Most male squirrels stay in tall trees, and their nests are simple but very poorly constructed. They prefer living alone and don’t care for their females unless they want to mate again. Meanwhile, females stay near the center of a tree along with their offspring and near the males. Their nests are well constructed and tidy.
Do Squirrels Stay Together as a Family?
Squirrels don’t stay together as a family. As mentioned above, males leave their females after mating. Therefore, they don’t take care of their young and leave the responsibility to the mothers. Unlike males, female squirrels are excellent parents. In fact, mother squirrels take care of the babies of other mothers.
Baby squirrels (called kits or kittens) are born blind, hairless, and helpless, which is why mothers devote their time caring for them. They stay with their offspring, play with them, and protect them until they are grown-ups and can already live independently. Most kittens grow up without even meeting their father.
Do Squirrels Mate With Their Offspring?
Squirrels mate with their offspring and their siblings and relatives, just like other wild animals. However, a study shows that ground squirrels know each other. By sniffing their scents, they can somehow identify those that are closely related to them and even to what degree of relationship they have.
According to the research, the squirrels under experiment spent less time sniffing the scents of their siblings even if they had not seen each other yet. On the other hand, they spend a long time smelling the scent of their distant relatives. Therefore, squirrels may also avoid mating with their offspring.
Squirrels rarely bother humans, but they can be aggressive, especially when they are sick or mating. Avoid going near them because they might attack you without warning. So, if you see them chasing each other, just let them enjoy life. If you want to observe their mating rituals, be careful and watch them from afar.
List of Sources
Living in Harmony With Squirrels. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Strauss, A., et al. (2007). Sexually Mature and Immature Yearling Male European Ground Squirrels: A Comparison of Behavioral and Physiological Parameters. National Library of Medicine.
Living With Wildlife: Tree Squirrels – Facts About Washington Tree Squirrels. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.