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Squirrel Fest: History museum survey to help track fox squirrels distribution in Utah

ABC4
ABC4
 2022-12-07

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SALT LAKE CITY ( ABC4 ) — As part of its week-long Squirrel Fest , the Natural History Museum of Utah is urging the community to help local biologists in their study of fox squirrels.

The third annual Squirrel Fest runs from Dec. 3 to Dec. 11. Utahns can help track the distribution of squirrels in the state by observing their own environment and completing a survey that lets the museum know if there are any squirrels at a designated location. The survey can be completed on mobile phones and computers .

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“The fox squirrel data has allowed us to study how a non-native species becomes established in a new environment. In six years, fox squirrels have increased their range along the Wasatch Front and continue to adapt to the urban environment,” said Eric Rickart, NHMU’s curator of vertebrates.

The first sighting of a fox squirrel in Utah was in 2011 along the Jordan River in Salt Lake City. Led by Rickart and Ellen Eriksson, the museum’s Citizen Science program manager, this study will give biologists a chance to monitor fox squirrels in Utah and increase their understanding of how these creatures interact with the environment.

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Information provided by the survey will answer questions such as: “What do these squirrels eat?” “What other species do they interact with?,” or “Where in Utah are fox squirrels present and not present?”

But what is the best way to observe squirrels for this survey? The museum recommends the following steps:

  • Look for squirrels wherever – at home, on a walk, on a hike, etc.
  • Observe anywhere from 5-15 minutes
  • If you are looking for squirrels in a specific area, and do not see one after 15 minutes, select “ No ” for the question “ Did you see or hear at least one fox squirrel. ” in the survey. Not seeing a squirrel is also useful data!

According to the museum, Squirrel Fest operates much like the Christmas Bird Count the American Audubon Society has been hosting for the past 100 years.

The survey has amassed enough data over the past years to formulate a map of all squirrel sightings in northern Utah. In 2021, community members contributed more than 450 observations. Rickart said these data contributions from Utahns, who the museum calls “Citizen Scientists,” are a valuable part of his research.

Individuals interested in participating in the survey can visit the website for more information.

WHAT ARE FOX SQUIRRELS?

Courtesy of the Natural History Museum of Utah

Fox squirrels, also known as the eastern fox squirrel and Bryant’s fox squirrel, are the largest tree squirrel native to North America, especially the eastern and central parts of the U.S. They have gray-and-orange backs and undersides that range from pale yellow to bright orange. Their tails are bushy and long, making their total height anything between 18 to 28 inches.

These tiny mammals spend most of their days eating and gathering food, traveling along power lines and between bushes to get to where they need to go. They are agile climbers who live in trees and build caches to store food like nuts because they don’t spoil as easily.

In comparison, Utah’s native squirrel species are much smaller. The American Red squirrel grows to be about 12 to 16 inches tall. They have pale undersides and reddish-brown backs. The Rock squirrel may be about the same size as a fox squirrel, but its entire body is gray in color with yellow and brown highlights.

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