Squirrel Stew

June 15, 2011

What's For Dinner (and the Unintended Consequences of Every Introduction)?   The Eastern fox squirrel, Sciurus niger, was imported to Southern California in 1904 by veterans of the Civil War and Spanish American War, at the time living at the Veterans Home in West Los Angeles.  The war veterans mostly came from the southern US (e.g., Tennessee, Kentucky) and kept as caged pets tree squirrel native to their home states. Perhaps it is apocryphal, but I've heard that the squirrels weren't just pets, they were also used in that old-time favoritesquirrel stew! Whatever the reason for keeping the squirrels, eventually an overzealous hospital administrator noticed that they were being fed table scraps and, deeming this illicit provisioning a misuse of government support, turned the squirrels loose.  The fox squirrels did quite well in their new habitat and it wasn’t long before they spread throughout the region.   Today we find Eastern fox squirrels from Oxnard to Ontario and from Santa Clarita to south Orange County.  As their range has expanded, the fox squirrel has increasingly come into contact with the Western gray squirrel, the native tree squirrel that lives in the foothills and mountains of Los Angeles.  Biologists are very interested in studying the ecological effects of these two species as they come into contact, including possible displacement or hybridization. Here in Exposition Park we have a large and feisty population of these squirrels. At lunchtime they can often be seen wrestling French fries and sandwiches out of field trippers' hands. Here's some footage Sam Easterson captured of one of them eating lunch crumbs off the sidewalk.           In addition to this footage Sam is trying to capture some non-traditional footage for our new Nature Lab exhibit. We're hoping to show you nature like you've never seen it before, and Sam thinks this peanut cam might help! He says, "I like the idea of the squirrel shooting footage. Maybe he/she will take the peanut up a tree or even bury it underground." Whatever happens, I'll be sure to keep you all in the loop as we try out the peanut cam.  

Sam's prototype peanut cam!    

  Thanks Jim Dines, Mammalogy Collections Manager, for all the Eastern fox squirrel facts!   

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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Black Phoebes Build Nest

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More Nest SurveillanceThis week we found another active bird nest! This nest belongs to a pair of Black Phoebes, Sayornis nigricans, and is built under the eaves of the Rose Garden maintenance shed. Once again this find is thanks to Kimball Garrett, who noticed the nest Monday morning on one of his regular Expo Park bird surveys.  Footage of the phoebe landing on her nestNaughty NeighborsThis is the second nest Kimball has found in this location this year, but it is a site that has been used by phoebes in past years. Unfortunately, this year's first nest was disturbed by unknown causes, but it is possible that a squirrel is to blame. Eastern Fox Squirrels, Sciurus niger, are very common in Expo Park, and they are known nest predators. When they locate a nest they will eat any eggs or young birds they find. We'll never know for sure if a squirrel is to blame for the first nests' failure, but fortunately the phoebes persevered and built a second nest.

Eastern Fox Squirrel on top of the Butterfly PavilionBetter Luck This TimeUntil today we were not sure if the new nest contained any eggs. This morning Kimball and I went out with a mirror and now we can confirm there are four eggs!

Kimball checks out the nest

The mirror reveals four eggs in the clutchNow that we know there are eggs, we are going to regularly monitor the nest. I'll keep you posted as the eggs are incubated, they hatch and then the immature birds develop. If we are lucky, we'll be able to document the entire process.

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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