Sierra Squirrels

By Tim Hauserman

Squirrels are the super active characters that everyone sees just about everywhere around Tahoe. There are three squirrels that you will see most often around the Tahoe region:

-The Red Bull super hyper cone droppers (Douglas Squirrel)
-The top of the mountain food stealer (Golden mantled ground squirrel)
-The holy cow that is a big squirrel…I mean look at that tail?! (western gray squirrel)

Douglas Squirrel

(Medium sized, Grayish, almost greenish brown, light color belly, white eye rings, long tails)

John Muir found these little guys to be the most interesting of the Sierra squirrels. Perhaps because they are non stop hard workers and are quite territorial about keeping other squirrels away from their crop of trees. They pretty much spend all day hyperactively running up trees, dropping cones and moving those cones into their large stock of other cones and seeds in their storage area called a midden. After they drop a cone, they frequently will let out a rowdy cheer, in the form of a short, raucous chorus. Recently I witnessed their work habits while camped in the high Sierra west of Big Pine. We took a layover day in camp and a Douglas squirrel didn’t stop working all day long, and was constantly running by our tent with another cone in his mouth. Even when it rained, he was dropping cones onto our tent during the deluge. We would yell at him, he would yell back and then find another spot to drop a cone.

Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel

(Mistaken for chipmunks they are larger and have a shorter tail but have the tell tale stripe down their backs.)

Obese versions of these little buggers are found at the top of our most popular hiking destinations. Mt. Tallac especially is over run with them. They are omnivorous, and will eat anything, including birds, lizards and carrions, but they especially like the food humans bring to them. Based on their roly-poly appearance in places where humans frequent, it looks like humans have been giving them way too much of our stuff. Please, quit feeding animals in the wild! It makes it so folks can’t enjoy a lunch without getting run over by these rodents, which by the way carry diseases.

Western Gray Squirrel

(Large Gray Squirrel, with a huge tail, often found scampering about the woods. You can’t miss them)

These large squirrels hang out mostly on the forest floor, and in urban parks on the grass. They are active year round. This summer I saw a gray squirrel, jumping around uncontrollably and itching like crazy. The poor guy was suffering from Sarcoptic Mange, a tiny mite that burrows under the skin and feeds off the blood of the squirrel making him itch like crazy.

The golden mantled ground squirrel gets it’s food on the ground, so when the ground is covered with snow, they hibernate. The Gray Squirrel and Douglas Squirrel spend their days finding food in the trees, so they stay active during the winter. While these are these three are the most commonly seen squirrels, “we have a ton of squirrels in Tahoe,” said Will Richardson, Executive Director of the Tahoe Institute for Natural Sciences. “Five chipmunks (I think the Sierra has perhaps the greatest diversity of chipmunks in the country when taken as a whole range), marmot, 3 ground-squirrels, flying squirrel and 2 tree squirrels, and it’s pretty cool to think of all the resource partitioning and subtle lifestyle differences that go on to let them all co-exist here.”