By Wendy Langhans:
Chi-chi-chi Thump! Chi-chi-chi Thump! It sounded like the squirrels were at it again in the pine trees. So I grabbed my camera and soon found the noisemaker, now quiet and doing his best to remain hidden in the tree.
It was an Eastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger), one of the four tree squirrels found in California. (The other local tree squirrel is the Western gray squirrel, Sciurus griseus.) Fox squirrels are not native to southern California, but were introduced into the Los Angeles area (Wilshire and Sepulveda) around 1904. Since then, they’ve spread throughout the region, reaching the Santa Clarita valley in the 1980’s.
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Squirrel teeth are especially designed for chewing on seeds, with two top and two bottom incisors located at the front of their jaws. Shaped like chisels, these teeth make short work of a pinecone, as you can see in this close-up.
Squirrels seek out pine cones because their seeds, the pine “nuts”, are high in calories (about 1/2 fat by weight). Depending on the species, pine nuts also have a protein content of between 15-30%. Think of it as the equivalent of a high protein power bar.
But, as any savvy cook knows, chopping seeds and nuts can dull the edge of even your best kitchen knife. So you can imagine what this does to the squirrel’s teeth, which is why squirrel teeth are constantly growing.
Squirrels chew quietly, so as not to call attention to their location. But if you are close by, you can hear the chi-chi-chi sound made by the Eastern fox squirrel. What you don’t want to hear is the thump sound, the sound of the pine cone (or what’s left of it) hitting the ground (or your head). I hauled out my kitchen scale and took a few sample measurements.
This the empty cone weighs 2 ounces.
This partially eaten cone weighs 4 1/2 ounces.
And this whole cone weights 8 1/2 ounces. A half pound? That’s ‘gotta hurt.
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Saturday, December 18, 8:00-10:00 AM, Morning Bird Hike at Towsley Canyon. Bird walks during the holiday season have a long tradition including spotting and counting the local avian residents. So bundle up the family and go to the park instead of the mall. Beginners welcome, bring binoculars. For directions and trail maps, click here.
Saturday, December 18, 1:00-3:00 PM, Take the kids outside, while someone wraps their presents. Todays parks are the sum total of their parts. Nowhere is that more evident than at Mentryville, where a glimpse into the past enhances our understanding of the park’s value today. Meet at the parking lot. For directions and trail maps, click here.
Trail Maintenance Schedule. Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org for time and place.
Wednesday mornings, December 1, 8, 15, 22, & 29.
Saturday mornings, December 11.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on “The Hike Report”, brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
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