Saturday, August 22, 2020

Abert's Squirrel - Give and Take

Abert's Squirrel


Some years I barely see them at all but this summer the Abert’s Squirrel has been unusually conspicuous. They have allowed me to document, through photography, their delightful behavior. 


The younger ones are especially curious and playful as they scurry down within arm’s length, taunting me to come closer. If I resist the dare, they continue to close the gap but if I make the slightest twitch, they rocket back to the tree trunk.


Exhibiting no fear of heights, the mature adults perch safely on tree limbs high above the forest floor. Early mornings are spent on the ground cautiously collecting pinecones for breakfast.


The large, bushy tail and long ear tufts are the distinctive features of this endearing creature. Compared to the rowdy, little red squirrel, who thinks it owns the forest, the Abert's is quite charming.


A story about the simple life of a squirrel may seem tedious but we can learn much from its interesting and complex partnership with the ponderosa pine tree. Also known as the tassel-eared squirrel, it is strictly confined to ponderosa pine forests.


The tree provides not only a home but also most of its diet. In exchange for food and shelter, the squirrel spreads fungal spores around the tree that are beneficial to the pine's health.


The squirrel has to manage its fragile resource wisely because if the exploitation becomes too extensive, the tree will go into defense mode. It will produce extra terpenes (chemicals that give pines their scent) to ruin the squirrel's appetite.


The tree's reaction evicts the squirrel but at the cost of reduced vitality and a slower growth rate. In other words, they need to get along in order for each species to thrive. Just like any prosperous relationship between plant and animal there must be some give and take.


They have been unusually conspicuous

Delightful behavior

Curious and playful

They scurry down the tree

Taunting to come closer

Quite charming

Large ear tufts

It manages its resource

Tassel-eared squirrel

Confined to a ponderosa pine forest

Give and take

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