A squirrelly look at what we think we know

If you’ve seen the movie “Up,” you’ll understand why a reporter and I were laughing at ourselves after having literally gotten distracted from what we were working on by a graphic about squirrels the other day.


Somehow or other, she had stumbled across a graphic tweeted by the Ohio Division of Wildlife in honor of Squirrel Appreciation Day. Sadly, the event was well past (Jan. 21) but that didn’t stop us from diving in.

In the graphic are photos and descriptions of five Ohio squirrel species.

I was surprised I had never heard of two of them. And I’ve only seen two of them.

I think.

It’s possible I’ve seen the wonderfully named Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrel and thought it was just a really well decorated chipmunk.

For that matter, it’s possible I’ve seen the Eastern Fox Squirrel and thought it was a fat Red Squirrel.

I know I’ve never seen a Southern Flying Squirrel, though.

According to the Division of Wildlife, that is because it is strictly nocturnal.

Time for a night hike…

Meanwhile, I wondered why there was no mention of the black squirrel. Maybe it was left off because, depending on who you ask, it’s considered an invasive species.

I couldn’t let that go — and I knew any Kent State alumni out there would call it out, too.

After all, the black squirrel is the unofficial mascot of Kent State.

The Center for Student Involvement says they even have a quidditch team called the Kent State Soaring Black Squirrels, which makes my Harry Potter-loving heart happy. It turns out Kent State and the black squirrel have a connection that both helped me understand why the creature had become known as an invasive species, and proved that wrong.

Black squirrels are just Eastern Gray Squirrels or Eastern Fox Squirrels with a genetic mutation. They popped up in Ohio naturally.

In fact, they were once more common in this region. But by the mid-20th Century, the population had been mostly killed off by predators. So, Kent State Grounds Superintendent Larry Wooddell and colleague “Biff” Staples initiated “Operation Black Squirrel.”

They worked with the Canadian government, and “In 1961, they drove to Ontario to pick up 10 Black Squirrels that were captured by Canadian wildlife authorities. The Black Squirrels were released in Kent, and over time mixed with the indigenous squirrel population,” according to the Fall 2013 edition of “The Connection,” an Education, Health and Human Services newsletter. The black squirrels are not so much invasive then, as reintroduced.

Picture that scene, I wonder what they were driving — Just a couple of guys bringing ten squirrels back across the Canadian border to release on campus, spawning decades of annual festivals, and even a 5K race. And a quidditch team.

Much as that little mental excursion might have been just for fun (and it was fun), it reminded me of a couple of things.

I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I knew about a pretty simple topic (squirrels, for crying out loud).

In fact, I was wrong about some of what I thought I knew.

And the common knowledge that had been passed down on the matter, wasn’t quite right. It contained a grain of truth, but there was more to the story, and the full picture was much richer than what had been told.

I need to be willing to take those excursions for topics a little more difficult and less fan than regional rodents. For now, I’m glad for the “distraction” from the Division of Wildlife. Who knew a fact sheet about squirrels would turn out to be the neatest part of the day?


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