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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Squirrel Stew

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! 


  1. If you think the fox squirrels of Exposition Park are brazen, you should meet the fearless Monarchs of LA Valley College...the squirrel population there. They will rummage through purses and backpacks. They will get up on their hind legs and beg for scraps. They will stare down people eating their lunch at picnic tables. They know no fear. They know they own the place.

  2. Thanks for telling us about the EFS population at LA Valley College. I'd love to see some pictures of them rummaging through purses and backpacks, that's wild!

  3. Lila, I had one of those squirrels that used to come up and sit on the bench with me while I was waiting for my shuttle on the USC campus. He'd sit there and take Cheetos, chips or pretzels or whatever I had in my lunch that day right out of my hand. I actually got him on video on my phone one day!

  4. Funny I find myself here, after a visit to Alma Mater. Here, one of the fox squirrels (a female I think) posed for me.

    1. Michelle,
      Thanks for your comment and link! I took a look at the picture and the descended testes indicate that this is in fact a male squirrel. Mating season is here!