Whether you made a new friend in your garden or rescued a squirrel, you may wonder how long do squirrels live? How long your new garden friend may stick around? The one with the big fluffy tail that sputters around and runs full steam ahead up your favorite tree and the one who steals your birdseed or distracts your four-legged friends. Yeah, that one? The friendly neighborhood bushy-tailed creatures. Continue reading to find out how long that darling critter may live.
How Long Do Squirrels Live
Different squirrel species have different life expectancies. The answer to the question will depend on many factors. Factors like living conditions, where they live, diet, and such also affect how long they will live. However, most squirrels die before reaching maturity.
In captivity, squirrels typically live anywhere from 5 to 10 years, and they can live longer than 20 years old. In captivity or as pet squirrels, they have access to food, water source, and no predator. Also, they do not have to worry about finding a mate.
However, squirrels in captivity can easily get bored and stressed, shortening their lifespan. If you are keeping them as a pet, be sure to provide your pet squirrel with plenty of toys for both mental and physical stimulation.
Wild squirrels, on average, live less than ones in captivity as they are at higher risks of running into predators, diseases, food source, and other factors. Not to mention baby squirrels are very vulnerable in the wild. Baby squirrels live with their mother until 12 weeks old and leave the nest and search for food.
Wild squirrels typically live about half as long as ones kept captive and can be unpredictable due to so many factors. But the average lifespan for wild squirrels is between 2-10 years, depending on the species.
There are more than 200 species of squirrels, and they are categorized into three types: tree squirrels, ground squirrels, and flying squirrels. You will most likely come across are from the tree squirrels category. Here are some common species and their lifespan:
American Red Squirrel
American red squirrels are native to the eastern part of North America. They can barely make it to one year of age in the wild, with only 22% surviving to one year of age, but they can live to 8 years in captivity. For juveniles, females tend to survive longer than males. As they grow into adults, an adult male may live slightly longer than an adult female.
Eastern Gray Squirrel
Grey Squirrels, known as Eastern gray squirrels, are native to eastern North America, but they can be found almost anywhere. Eastern gray squirrels live up to 12 years in the wild, but only exception individual does. At birth, their life expectancy is 1 to 2 years, and adult typically lives to be six. In captivity, they can live to be 20 years old.
Grey squirrels and red squirrels both nest in a tree, so naturally, it allows them to live longer than a ground squirrel. And of all the species of squirrel lifespan, gray squirrels can live the longest.
Fox squirrels, known as Eastern fox squirrels or Bryant's fox squirrel, are very similar to Eastern gray squirrels as they are in almost every state in the U.S. They can adapt to survive in both the forest and urban environment. This ability allows fox squirrels to live between 8 to 18 years or longer in the wild, with female squirrels living longer than males.
Black squirrels are a type of fox squirrel. They contain a high level of melanin, which gives them black-colored fur. For this reason, it makes them more resistant to diseases and parasites than other species. Being a type of fox squirrel, they have a similar lifespan.
Southern Flying Squirrels
The southern flying squirrel is small and light, and it moves through the air by gliding and not flying. This type of squirrel can be found in Canada and extends down into Central America. This type only lives on average between 3 to 5 years in the wild but can live up to 10 years. In captivity, southern flying squirrels live up to 17 years.
California Ground Squirrels
California ground squirrel is a type of ground squirrel. Ground squirrels are typically more vulnerable than tree squirrels, including Richardson ground squirrels, arctic ground squirrels, and other ground squirrels.
Young ground squirrels are especially more vulnerable to snake attacks and have shorter lifespans. They can live up to 6 years in the wild but most only live between 2 to 4 years, with males typically living up to 2 years.
Typically there is no big lifespan difference between males and females. But this will depend on individual species and their natural behavior.
Some male squirrels tend to be more aggressive than females and will be more likely to get into fights. For example, American Red Squirrels are more territorial and more aggressive during mating season.
Food Source/ Diet
Depending on the squirrel species and where they live, their typical diet consists of plants, nuts, and proteins like insects, small snakes, and even eggs.
Like a human, a well-balanced diet will help a squirrel build strength to fight diseases. Unlike pet squirrels, wild squirrels do not have the privilege of always getting healthy foods that contribute to their lifespan.
Due to the squirrel's small stature, especially baby squirrels, they can be a common prey animal to many larger animals. Thus, the number one factor affecting squirrel life span is predators, and the two main predator types are large birds and mammals.
The avian predators are as follows: owls, kites, falcons, vultures, and hawks. It would be best to watch out for: foxes, house cats, bobcats, mink, weasels, badgers, and dogs. Don't rule reptiles out either; snakes can be a very dangerous predator for squirrels.
Disease and Parasites
Squirrels can get a variety of diseases and parasites in their lifestyle living in the wild. Some of the most common include rabies, mange, fleas, squirrel pox, and Lyme disease. They can also get parasites such as ticks and mites. These diseases and parasites can shorten the lifespan of a squirrel.
As with wild animals in the world, pests can be more than just a nuisance for your local squirrel. The pest that uses squirrels as their host may shorten the squirrel's life, with bot flies being a common pest for many squirrels.
The squirrel may encounter bot fly eggs laid in its home by the adult female bot flies. The mother bot flies lay their eggs in the squirrel's sleeping area because they know their young need a host to survive. The eggs will become attached and be picked up by the squirrel's fur, where they will eventually hatch. From the fur, the newly-hatched larvae will seek out pores and other openings on the squirrel's skin and bury themselves underneath, kind of like being in a pocket. This allows the larvae/warble access to oxygen and allows it to breathe.
After several weeks, the newly formed pupa will leave the skin of the squirrel and find a new home in the ground, as it is no longer reliant on a host. Although the warbles themselves are not so harmful to the squirrel, the openings create infection to enter the body. The infection can lead to sickness and even the death of the squirrel.
Squirrel pox, scientifically known as Squirrel Fibroma Virus, is a virus that can shorten a squirrel's lifespan. Squirrel pox is spread through vectors (mosquitos) and fomites (squirrel feeders). The virus can also be spread by direct contact between squirrels. While the virus can sometimes be fought easily by the squirrel, other times, it may be as harmful as to lead to death.
Squirrel's Natural Defense
While it may seem that your squirrel has no chance against bigger and faster animals, it may have a few tricks up its sleeve! The number one tactic for survival that you will see is a squirrel darting up a tall tree.
You may not be aware of other mechanisms squirrels use to protect themselves. Nature can be very interesting sometimes, and squirrel defense tactics can be a great example of that!
Although squirrels may not seem very ferocious, they have a trick that will deter predators away from them. Squirrels are known to hunt for and eat rattlesnake skins that have been recently shed to change their scent. When they chomp up the skins, the odor of the rattlesnake will transfer into their saliva.
Squirrels then groom themselves, soaking their fur with the snake-scented saliva. Other animals will smell this odor and assume a rattlesnake is around. Since a rattlesnake is venomous, animals have a natural instinct to avoid them. Thus, predators will avoid the rattlesnake scented squirrel!
In addition to using the rattlesnake's skin as a perfume, squirrels may seek out places where snakes have lived, such as their burrows. The squirrels will roll around in burrows and pick up the smell of the snake that way. Other small animals, mostly rodents, have been caught exhibiting this behavior as well. Instead of a wolf in sheep's clothing, it is now a squirrel in a snake's scent!
Who needs a Tail
One of the most identifiable traits of a squirrel is its long, upright, fluffy tail, which can be another form of defense. A predator may bite on a squirrel's tail, only to break off mid-chomp. Once the tail has snapped, the squirrel has a chance to dart away. Although this may lead to a successful getaway, this form of fighting back is not recommended as the tail will not grow back. Therefore, the squirrel cannot use this trick again. If you see a squirrel without a tail in the future, you may have an idea of where that tail went.
What You Can Do To Help Increase Squirrel's Lifespan
For Wild Squirrels
As stated, squirrel pox can be spread by fomites. Fomites are nonliving objects that can pick up a pathogen and spread them to living beings through touch. If you have a friendly squirrel that comes to visit your bird feeders, be sure to clean and sanitize your bird feeder to help reduce the potential spread of squirrel pox.
As Pet/ In captivity
Squirrels are very smart animals, and they need both mental and physical stimulation to stay healthy and happy. Be sure to provide your pet squirrels or ones in captivity with plenty of things to do to prevent boredom.
If you have juvenile squirrels on hand, this is when they are most active and playful in their lifestyle. This is when they learn how to forage and hoard their food. Be sure to supply tools and toys that will allow them to express their natural behavior.