Squirrels Gone Wild

As my time in LA winds down, I’m struck by the little things that change between my visits. Not just the usually what’s-the-new-restaurant updates or the i-can’t-believe-they-thought-that-was-a-good-rebuild architectural analysis of the neighborhood. No, this is something smaller. Literally.

Squirrels.

When I was a kid, squirrels existed only on TV or in my eagerly awaited Ranger Rick issues or, finally, in person, at summer camp up in Big Bear along with their chipmunk cousins.

Now, suddenly, there they are scampering across the Vons parking lot or merry in the park. What is up with that? I’m no ecological expert, but I think I remember hearing something about species popping up in weird places being a bad thing. Who knows. But where’d they come from? First the squirrels then what?

It’s not that I have a problem with them. I actually really like squirrels. But probably only because they were like an animal treat when I was a good – a strange foreign creature that everyone else in the country got used to but I never did. From what I hear, lots of people hate them – like they’re the furry equivalent of pigeons. Did some helpful Noah release two in Pt. Fermin Park and then – bam – squirrels everywhere? It’s like Outbreak, but with bushier tails.

6 Replies to “Squirrels Gone Wild”

  1. Ah yes: Who Let The Squirrels Out? From what I know there are two species of tree squirrel (there’s also the California ground squirrel) found in Southern California: the western gray squirrel, and the fox squirrel.

    The western gray squirrel is native to the western coast of the U.S. from Washington to California. Medium-sized they have gray backs and white bellies. They occur primarily in local mountain ranges, but pocket populations can also be found in open areas that remain in the greater Los Angeles area.

    Then you have the fox squirrel, which is a non-native species that was introduced to Los Angeles beginning in the early 1900s. The fox squirrel is one of the largest known tree squirrels รณ at least 20% larger than the gray squirrel. They are often reddish-brown in color. These are the critters you’ve seen in the Vons parking lot or scampering and chattering through city parks.

    Word is the fox squirrel’s arrival in SoCal coincided with people relocating to L.A. from states in the south and east who brought the creature with them, but there are also sketchy reports of later introductions in the 1930s by the local Fish & Game Department of the time. By the end of the 1940s, the fox squirrel’s range had radiated out from its origins in west Los Angeles through the Santa Monica Mountains, across the San Fernando Valley and into Simi Valley. Today Fox squirrels are found throughout the L.A basin, Palos Verdes, and Long Beach. They’ve moved into Santa Clarita and Valencia and as far north as Ojai. To the south they’re into Orange County. East they’re beyond San Dimas and West Covina.

    They’re everywhere, and concern has been raised that as they continue to move into less urban areas they dispalce gray squirrel populations there. Other than that, I’m not aware of any other potential impacts the fox squirrel might have.

  2. It was widely rumored that my University planted larger bushier-tailed squirrels to “enhance” campus.

    and

    Despite having squirrels everywhere on campus I never noticed any squirrel related mess…

    Squirrels Rock!

  3. I live in Ontario, and we have black squirrels. They are western gray squirrels which are black. We have the odd actual gray one but the majority are black.

  4. We have a ton of squirrels here in Venice – the red ones. They eat the oranges out of our constantly-bearing-fruit tree. Seems to keep the coats glossy.

  5. Our neighborhood is a former walnut grove. I can see five one-hundred-year-old walnut trees from my front window, so it’s Squirrel Heaven.

    Will, it’s good to know I’m not the only one who goes around telling people about Invasive Imported Squirrel Demographics. :-)

    Did you know the first ones were imported by Civil and Spanish War veterans at the Sawtelle Veterans Home? Apparently, fox squirrels are much tastier eating than the native greys.

    There’s cool maps of the historical spread and current range of fox squirrels in LA at the page for the recently completed Southern California Fox Squirrel Research Project.

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