Stephen Smith, age 10, of Gloster, Louisiana, for his question:
How many litters a year do squirrels have?
In the squirrel world planned parenthood depends upon the summery seasons of tender shoots and toadstools, grasses and grasshoppers, nuts and berries. If the first litter arrived in early spring, there may be time to bring up another brood before these groceries become scarce.
The earth is well populated with squirrels of assorted sizes and colors. They are not at home in Australia or Madagascar and naturally they avoid the polar regions. But at lest one type is at home in every other region of the earth. Some live in burrows, others prefer life in the trees and a few are aerial acrobats. Not all of them wear bushy tails and each type has its own ideas of planned parenthood. As a rule the ground squirrels devote;. the whole summer season to the tending and educating of one litter. But when conditions are suitable, many tree squirrels produce two litters a year.
In the squirrel world, two litters a year seems to be the limit. The average brood is two to six. And all infant squirrels are tiny, helpless babes and for the first month or two, the devoted parents are kept busy protecting them. The nest of a tree squirrel may be as big as a beach ball, though we seldom see it. It is a shaggy ball of sticks and tangled twigs, lined with leaves and grasses and sometimes cushioned with shredded bark. The bulky nest may be high inside .a hollow tree or perched in the lofty fork of a leafy bough.
Our sassy red squirrel bears her first brood in early summer. There may be four infants, totaling a weight of one whole ounce. Their fur begins to grow after about two weeks and in a month or so the frisky youngsters are playing in the high branches. The red squirrel is not a Southerner. In his northern range winter comes early and as a rule there is time to rear only one litter each year.
Our larger grey squirrel bears her first brood in April and the youngsters are ready to leave home at the age of six weeks. The parents often have time to rear another litter before the winter sets in. The second brood may be born in July. Life is risky. But barring accidents, a. pair of sturdy. grey squirrels may live 15 years and produce two litters of 4 to 6 children a season. A bigger grey squirrel makes his home in the Rockies. This handsome, bushy tailed Westerner produces a litter in June and another in September.
Our fluffy little flying squirrel lives the specialized life of a performing acrobat. The infants are born in early summer and the training program of the one litter lasts until the following spirng. Our sassy chipmunks are ground squirrels. The babes are born in an underground nest and there is one litter each season. Prairie dogs are bigger ground squirrels. The female gives birth to her one litter of the season in the springtime.
All infant squirrels are tiny and sightless, furless and helpless. A newborn babe of the striped eastern chipmunk weighs about a ninth of an ounce. Growth during the first two weeks is slow. But after a month or six weeks, many youngsters are able to leave home: That teeny tiny baby chipmunk is old enough to start dating at 2 1/2 months. The prairie dog infant may be two inches long. But he develops slowly and begins dating at the age of two years.