When I was five years old, my Grandpa Day, whom I respected and adored, pointed towards my brother, who was five years older than I, and said,” Be careful of Jackie, he is a bit squirrely.” I looked at him in surprise and said, ” But I really like squirrels.”

Squirrels are yet another topic that can draw completely different opinions from different people. Opinions so different that it can make you wonder if they are both looking at the same thing. I have always been enchanted by this tail wagging, bulging-eyed creature. Yet my dog, Yogi, and most dogs overall, not so much, or maybe hate is a closer word to the truth.

Still, no matter what your tastes, squirrels are fascinating animals that most people may not be that well informed about…until now that is. Squirrels are members of the Sciuridae family, a family that includes creatures like small or medium size rodents. Now some of us may also have some rats in our families, but that is another breed altogether.

The Sciuridae family includes ground and tree squirrels, chipmunks, prairie dogs and the ever-popular flying squirrel. Imagine one of those coming at you. Squirrels were first categorized in 1327. Their name comes from the Anglo-Saxon reference to “shadow tail”.

I see those bushy tailed trouble makers numerous times a day. One of their favorite homes are in tall Fir trees and these trees surround the community that I live in. Squirrels are known for their slender bodies, long, bushy, twitching tails, large eyes and hind legs longer than their front. Their feet have four to five toes on each foot. Their bodies are designed to live in almost any habitation, from tropical rainforest to desert. They also have great vision and a strong sense of touch.

They are predominantly herbivores, eaters of seeds and nuts. However, squirrels can be meat eaters, going after a chicken, or a snake. There is even a report of a pack of squirrels attacking a large, stray dog and eating it. Now I wonder if that was the squirrely behavior my grandfather warned me about.

Sadly, many young squirrels die in their first year. Those who make it to adulthood can have life spans of five to ten years. Their tails help keep rain, wind, and cold away with a quick swoosh. Their versatile tails also help them keep cool in the heat. Their tails also work as a counter balance on trees and as a parachute to jump about.

Squirrels mate only once or twice a year. There are 58 species of ground squirrels.

In the Fall, squirrels bury much more food than they can recover. These creatures are incredibly optimistic. Lots of folks do not like squirrels because of the damage they do to electrical power lines and the occupying of attics. But they can be very harmless and very entertaining.

I love the red squirrel who sits on my fence and stares in on me when I am writing on my computer. These little creatures are among the most visible aggravates in cities and suburbs alike. Some of these characters can be seven times larger than the smallest of their species. Some squirrels, besides the more common brown and red types, can be all white or all black. I enjoyed watching the black squirrels when I was at Stanford hospital, where, for some reason, they are plentiful.

Squirrels are very talkative, with their high frequency chirp that drives dogs wild. They are good at communicating with each other, using their voice, scent and beat of tail to warn each other of pending dangers.

There is no reason to be afraid of squirrels, but also no reason to feed them either. Squirrels are very intelligent and trusting. They are one of the few wild animals who will eat out of your hand.

One of my happiest memories with squirrels happened one day in Battery Park in New York City. My daughter, Leslie, who was on the trip with me. had stopped to see something and I had headed on, when I was struck by an unusual sighting of a squirrel.

There, walking over the top of a park bench, the squirrel made its way forward, and then down a man’s arm, and then into his hand to carefully eat a nut. I watched this amusing sight for a while and then ventured closer to the bench. The man called over to me and asked, “Would you like him to do that with you?”

“Boy would I ever!” I responded. I sat on the bench and held my hand out, palm up. Soon I felt the tickle, tickle, tickle of little feet run down my arm and then onto my palm. He gently removed the nut that had been placed there and ate it. The squirrel repeated the track several times when I saw my daughter approaching.

“Leslie, would you like to do this too?” Leslie looked back at me in amazement, then said,” Mom, I may be squirrely, but I am not nuts!” I got up and followed her as she briskly walked away.

I guess squirrels are just not everyone’s cup of tea.

Diana J. Ingram

Diana Ingram has been a columnist for Los Banos newspapers for four decades.