Q. Dear Twig: Do squirrels ever fall out of trees?
A.: Yes. And I base that, for starters, on two accounts. First, once, I was sitting in an oak tree, enjoying the fall (get it?) sunshine. Across the road an eastern gray squirrel had just climbed up a cedar tree. It got to the top. It tried to jump over the road to my oak. It missed. It plopped down next to the road in the grass, a plunge of a good (bad) 20 feet. Thankfully, though, it seemed unhurt. It ran to the oak and raced up the trunk. I cheered and gave it four thumbs up.
Second, last week, my brother Log said a falling fox squirrel just missed konking his wife Mrs. Log on the head. It fell, yep, out of a tree. "At first it stumbled around dazed," Log said, in the log that he logged in his log. But a few minutes later when he checked it was gone, apparently then OK.
How do they do it? A bushy tail like a parachute helps. A Cornell University fact sheet notes that the red squirrel (similar to but smaller and nuttier than the gray and fox) is "known to fall considerable distances with little or no apparent injury. When this happens, the squirrel extends its legs and flattens its body and tail, thereby reducing the speed of the fall." Yaiee!
Best not try this at home.
P.S. Another type of tree squirrel actually chooses to fall! Flying squirrels jump then glide!
Notes: Find the Cornell University fact sheet, "Tree Squirrels," at http://wildlifecontrol.info/ccewdmp/Publications/Squirrel_factsheet.pdf. For short, sweet, nicely presented details about the eastern gray squirrel, fox squirrel, red squirrel and southern flying squirrel, go here — http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/Home/species_a_to_z/AZMammals/tabid/17912/Default.aspx — then click on the link for each species. Blatant promotion: Twig's new book, Hairy Blenny and the Monkeyface Prickleback, has just come out. Get details (what it's about, how to buy it) (hint: it's cheap!) (in price but not quality!) (nope, that's high!) at http://www.ag.ohio-state.edu/~news/storyhp?id=4346.
"Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick," published by The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences — specifically, by the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and Ohio State University Extension, the research and outreach arms, respectively, of the College — is a weekly column for children about science, nature, farming and the environment. It's written at a 4th-grade reading level. For details, to ask Twig a question, and/or to receive the column free by mail or e-mail, contact Kurt Knebusch, CommTech, OSU/OARDC,1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691, firstname.lastname@example.org, (330) 263-3776. Online at http://extension.osu.edu/~news/archive.php?series=science.