Any squirrel worth its weight in peanuts knows that Bienville Square is where it’s at. Thanks to well-intentioned visitors sharing their A & M treats, the fearless, bushy-tailed (and often rotund) creatures have taken over Downtown’s historic city park.
WASTE NOT, WANT NOT In the rural U.S., squirrel meat has been eaten with regularity, and its brains are considered a delicacy (though studies suggest it can cause a Mad Cow disease variant). Its fur is also highly sought after for use in high-end makeup brushes.
BUCKTOOTHED Squirrels’ four front teeth never stop growing. Frequent gnawing wears the incisors down, counteracting the incessant lengthening.
HUNGER GAMES A squirrel’s diet consists mostly of a wide array of plant matter, though they have been known to consume bird eggs, small birds and even other squirrels when hunger strikes. To avoid food scarcity in winter, they will famously bury nuts and acorns to consume later. Up to 75 percent of these buried snacks are forgotten about, becoming trees and aiding in forest growth.
CALL OF THE WILD Auburn University biologist Robert Lishak found that the chatty critters express alarm and desire with a variety of sounds. Tail twitching indicates a nearby threat, and they even communicate with facial expressions.
THE RUNAROUND Squirrels chase one another to establish dominance, defend their territory, find a mate or playfully pass the time.
TEENY TRICKSTERS In a remarkable show of intelligence, squirrels will pretend to bury their food in order to throw off potential thieves. If a perceived rival is watching, the clever rodent will make a show of digging a hole and filling it back in, all without ever dropping the nut from its mouth.
Dan Otto, director of Mobile’s Parks and Recreation Department, ponders the growing population.
- “They’ve been a problem in Bienville for quite some time, but lately it seems worse, ” he says. “Because people feed them peanuts, there is a greater food source than the population would ordinarily have.”
- “We trapped 70 to 90 and took them to Langan Park, ” Otto says of attempts to control Bienville’s squirrel population. “You couldn’t even see a dent.”
- “With the food source situation, we understand that they fill the gap, ” Otto says. “No matter how many you take out, you will never reduce the population. It’s similar to the geese at Langan Park.”
- “So many squirrels probably aren’t good for the health of the park, but it’s a Mobile tradition for people to feed them. It’s kind of a catch-22. You can enjoy feeding them, but you’re perpetuating a problem.”
- Should Mobilians and visitors stop buying treats for these squirrels? “I don’t know that we’ve taken a stance on that, ” Otto says. “At this point, we haven’t said that it’s prohibited.” It looks like our furry friends are in luck – for now.
- “It’s good clean fun. It comes with the territory. They make us laugh, ” adds Downtown Mobile Alliance’s Fred Rendfrey.
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text by HALEY POTTS • illustration by kelan mercer