Squirrels are well known as the best climbing animals in the world.
These rodents are found on all continents except for Antarctica, and there are almost 300 species around the world.
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the most common types of squirrels.
- Oriental Giant Squirrels
- Neotropical Pygmy Squirrels
- Tree Squirrels
- True Flying Squirrels
- Beautiful Squirrels
- Palm Squirrels
- Spiny Squirrels
- Protoxerini Squirrels
- Ground Squirrels
- Marmots and Prairie Dogs
- True Ground Squirrels
1. Oriental Giant Squirrels
Scientific name (genus): Ratufa
These squirrels are only found in Southeast Asia and they’re appropriately named, as they’re much larger than other species of the squirrel family. They all regularly outgrow a foot in length (not including the tail), while the Indian giant squirrel can reach almost 2 feet in length.
This makes them the largest types of squirrels. Giant squirrels are usually found in forests and they rarely come close to human habitats. As all squirrels, they’re arboreal animals and spend most of their life in the trees.
2. Neotropical Pygmy Squirrels
Scientific name: Sciurillus pusillus
This species is the only living species of the Sciurillus genus of squirrels. They’re found in northern South America where they live at least 30 feet above the ground.
There, they feed on tree bark and they’re easily alarmed. They run at the slightest indication of danger and they let out a cricket-like call to alarm other squirrels.
Unlike Oriental giant squirrels, these types of squirrels in South America rarely grow longer than 4 inches.
3. Tree Squirrels
Scientific name (tribe): Sciurini
Most species within this tribe are found in North and South America, with a few species found in Europe and Asia. In fact, tree squirrels are the most common types of squirrels in North America. They’re easily recognized because of their long, bushy tails.
As the name suggests, tree squirrels nest above the ground and they spend the majority of their lives in trees. They’re noticeably smaller than ground squirrels, and they mostly feed on nuts and seeds.
They’ll only feed on frogs and insects if a good opportunity arises, but they’re generally not predatory animals.
4. True Flying Squirrels
Scientific name (tribe): Pteromyini
Although the name suggests that these squirrels can fly, that’s a misconception. These animals can easily glide because of special skin adaptations that stretch from front to hind legs. This allows them to change direction mid-air and land wherever they want.
However, flying squirrels cannot fly upwards the way birds can. Despite this inability, these types of flying squirrels can still glide up to 300 feet before landing.
Like tree squirrels, they mostly live in the trees and they feed on fruits, seeds, nuts, and some bugs. Their ‘wings’ make them very easy to recognize, but their tail is not as bushy as the tail of tree squirrels.
5. Beautiful Squirrels
Scientific name (tribe): Callosciurini
Most species within this tribe are found in Asia, where they reach larger sizes, but nothing close to Oriental giant squirrels. Some species can grow up to 11 inches in length, and they also develop a colorful coat – orange and black is a popular combination in this tribe.
Beautiful squirrels are mostly arboreal and they stay in the trees throughout the day. There, they feed on seeds and nuts, and they’re important for the local flora as they spread seeds around the forest.
6. Palm Squirrels
Scientific name (genus): Funambulus
Aside from Asia, some species from this genus were introduced to Australia, but the area they inhibit there is very limited. In Asia, they’re most common in India and Sri Lanka.
There, they’re often seen on palm trees, hence the name. They’re easily recognized by their stripes, which usually run from the back of their neck to the tail.
These types of squirrels in India are considered sacred and are often protected by the people.
7. Spiny Squirrels
Scientific name (tribe): Xerini
Spiny squirrels are found in Africa and Asia, where they usually occur in woodlands and grasslands. Instead of nesting in trees, they usually burrow into the ground. Since they’re not nocturnal animals, they hide in their burrows during the night.
Unlike many other squirrels, these types of squirrels in Africa often form communities. This is odd for squirrels, as males are usually competitive over females. However, this makes it difficult for predators to prey on them.
8. Protoxerini Squirrels
Scientific name (tribe): Protoxerini
All 30 species of squirrels in this tribe are endemic to Africa. Their official maximum length is about 10 inches (depending on the exact species), and they’re both terrestrial and arboreal animals – depending on the habitat and time of day.
It’s not odd to see them near plantations, but they’re not considered a pest. Even though they feed on fruits and seeds like most squirrel species, predatory behavior is also common. It usually includes insects, such as ants, termites, and caterpillars.
9. Ground Squirrels
Scientific name (tribe): Marmotini
Despite the scientific name, marmots actually belong to a separate subtribe.
Ground squirrels are mostly characterized by their terrestrial behavior – although they can climb trees, they spend most of their time in fields and grassy areas, running for the trees only when they’re fleeing from predators.
Some of these squirrels can grow longer than 18 inches. Because of their size, it’s noted that predatory behavior is more common – they can overpower rats and mice that are larger than themselves.
Scientific name (genera): Tamias, Eutamias, Neotamias
Chipmunks are most common in North America, with the Siberian chipmunk being the notable exception as they occur in Eurasia. The most obvious difference between chipmunks and true squirrels is the lack of a bushy tail.
Additionally, tree squirrels are much larger than chipmunks and they don’t have any stripes. There are some similarities with ground squirrels – they have stripes and a short tail, but they don’t have stripes on their head, which is how they’re told apart.
Aside from that, these types of squirrels in the USA are very similar to true squirrels when it comes to diet and behavior.
11. Marmots and Prairie Dogs
Scientific name (genera): Marmota & Cynomys
Marmots are large squirrels found in Eurasia and North America. They can grow up to 30 inches in length and sometimes weigh more than 20 pounds, which is an incredible weight for a squirrel.
Because of their size and weight, they aren’t as nearly as good at climbing at tree climbing as tree squirrels and they have to burrow to hibernate through the winter.
Unlike most squirrels, they feed on grasses, berries, and roots, while seeds and nuts are rarely seen in their diet.
Prairie dogs are very similar to marmots, but they’re only found in North America. They’re even more advanced burrowers as they build underground complexes with actual colonies and complex hierarchies.
12. True Ground Squirrels
Scientific name (tribe): Spermophilina
These squirrels are usually found in open fields, grasslands, and arid areas where they nest under the ground. They build colonies similar to those of prairie dogs. However, they’re much smaller and lighter animals.
The most well-known representative of this tribe is the thirteen-lined ground squirrel, easily recognized because of the thirteen stripes on its back. Ground squirrels hibernate under the ground and don’t emerge until spring.
Contrary to popular opinion, squirrels are a very diverse group of animals. Some are great climbers, some can glide through the air, and other families are families of burrowers.
Wherever they’re located, though, one fact remains the same – squirrels are crucial members of the ecosystem. Not only do they spread plant seeds, but they’re also crucial prey for many predators, especially birds.