Archive for December 5th, 2010
- photo by Mitch Waxman
The odd ways and methods of thought which your humble narrator exhibits mystify even himself. Walking down Laurel Hill Blvd. one fine day, and upon observing that most mundane and usual of creatures- the Squirrel- I realized that near total ignorance of the studied actuality of the animal was mine.
This happens to me often, sometimes it’s a foodstuff- like honey for instance. “How does one produce Honey industrially?” (which I’ve mentioned before), or “How, exactly, is Jell-O made?”. The latter case, incidentally, produced an answer so horrible and pregnant with latent disgust that I haven’t eaten the stuff since.
If you enjoy gelatin desserts, don’t ever, EVER try to find out. It’s not what you think it is, and the simplest thing to say is that the process for producing the stuff was invented in the 19th century at Newtown Creek…
The living squirrels are divided into 5 subfamilies, with about 50 genera and nearly 280 species. The oldest squirrel fossil, Hesperopetes, dates back to the Chadronian (Late Eocene, about 40 – 35 million years ago), and is similar to modern flying squirrels.
During the latest Eocene to the Miocene, there were a variety of squirrels which cannot be assigned with certainty to any living lineage. At least some of these probably were variants of the oldest, basal “proto-squirrels” (in the sense that they lacked the full range of living squirrels’ autapomorphies). The distribution and diversity of such ancient and ancestral forms suggests that the squirrels as a group might have originated in North America.
Apart from these sometimes little-known fossil forms, the phylogeny of the living squirrels is fairly straightforward. There are three main lineages, one comprising the Ratufinae (Oriental giant squirrels). These contain a mere handful of living species in tropical Asia. The Neotropical Pygmy Squirrel of tropical South America is the sole living member of the Sciurillinae. The third lineage is by far the largest and contains all other subfamilies; it has a near-cosmopolitan distribution. This further supports the hypothesis that the common ancestor of all squirrels living and fossil lived in North America, as these three most ancient lineages seem to have radiated from there – if squirrels had originated in Eurasia for example, one would expect quite ancient lineages in Africa, but African squirrels seem to be of more recent origin.
The main group of squirrels also can be split up in three, which yields the remaining subfamilies. The Sciurinae contains the flying squirrels (Pteromyini) and the Sciurini, which among others contains the American tree squirrels; the former have often been considered a separate subfamily but are now seen as a tribe of the Sciurinae. The pine squirrels (Tamiasciurus) on the other hand are usually included with the main tree squirrel lineage, but appear to be about as distinct as the flying squirrels; hence they are sometimes considered a distinct tribe, Tamiasciurini.
- photo by Mitch Waxman
These sort of questions are not good ones to ask, as often the answers present casual barbarism and bloody reality in a matter of fact fashion, and such information blackens the heart and calcifies the mind. Would it aid me, in any way whatsoever, to find out that there might have been some carnivorous Ice Age Squirrel the size of a Buffalo or something? Would it not in fact, be somewhat wiser to apply the limited intellect and time left to me on this mortal coil in pursuit of acquiring the sort of skills which would allow me to gather and hoard material wealth to myself?
Perhaps I could apply my time to more fruitful pursuits than those already explored, apply for and attain some sort of professional license and become a realtor or exterminator or something? Perhaps some novel combination of the two would be possible, and certainly more useful than spending an entire day thinking about common urban rodents.
Squirrels are generally intelligent and persistent animals. In residential neighborhoods, they are notorious for discovering clever methods to circumvent obstacles in order to eat out of bird feeders. Tree squirrels also create minor annoyances by digging in planting pots and flower beds to pull out bulbs which they chew on, to either bury or recover seeds and nuts, and for building nests within human domiciles, including attics and basements. Squirrels use their keen sense of smell to locate buried nuts and can dig extensive holes in the process. Birds, especially crows, will sometimes watch a squirrel bury a nut, then dig it up as soon as the squirrel leaves. Although they are expert climbers, and primarily arboreal, squirrels also thrive in urban environments, where they have adapted to humans.
- photo by Mitch Waxman
Alas, this fascination for the obscure and bizarre marks me, as always… an Outsider… condemned to feel at home only amongst the tomb legions.
In Norse mythology, Ratatoskr (Old Norse, generally considered “drill-tooth” or “bore-tooth”) is a squirrel who runs up and down the world tree Yggdrasil to carry messages between the unnamed eagle, perched atop Yggdrasil, and the wyrm Níðhöggr, who dwells beneath one of the three roots of the tree. Ratatoskr is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson. Scholars have proposed theories about the implications of the squirrel.
Ratatosk is the squirrel who there shall run
On the ash-tree Yggdrasil;
From above the words of the eagle he bears,
And tells them to Nithhogg beneath.