When you think of a squirrel, you may think of a cute, bushy-tailed animal storing nuts away in the trees. In comparison, the term ‘rodent’ brings to mind dirty, invasive pests such as mice and rats.
What is a rodent?
The term ‘rodent’ stems from the Latin word ‘rodere’, meaning ‘to gnaw’, which directly relates to their defining characteristic of having a set of incisors in both the upper and lower jaw that never stop growing. Of course, this means they must continue to grind them down, so they don’t pierce their own skulls – what a way to go!
Rodents are an incredibly diverse bunch, and they make up around 40% of the mammal species. Over 2,000 animals are classed as rodents, including porcupines, rats, mice, gerbils, voles, chinchillas, and chipmunks.
Different types of squirrels in the UK
Two types of squirrels live in the UK: the red squirrel and the grey squirrel. If you live in the UK, you’ve almost definitely seen a grey squirrel out and about before; however, the red squirrel is much less common.
Although they can be adorable with their bushy little tails, the grey squirrel is incredibly harmful and destructive to several environments. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recognised the grey squirrel as being in the “Top 100 Invasive Pest Species in the World”.
According to the Woodland Trust, there are an estimated 2.7 million grey squirrels in the UK, and that number continues to rise – no wonder you see them everywhere!
Due to the sheer number of grey squirrels in the UK, you would likely assume that they are native animals. However, you would be incorrect. Grey squirrels are native to North America and were brought over to England in 1876 by the Victorians, unaware of the negative impact these fluffy creatures would have on our ecosystem.
Since then, according to the British Pest Control Association, the grey squirrel has colonised 90% of England and Wales and is also causing issues in Scotland!
Red squirrels are our native squirrel species here in the UK, and they have lived here for over 10,000 years. However, whilst you can expect to see a grey squirrel on a walk around your local park, the same cannot be said for the elusive red squirrel. This is because they are now limited to some regions of the UK, including parts of Northern England, Anglesey and Scotland.
Compared to the 2.7 million grey squirrels, the population of red squirrels is dwindling, with only 287,000 in the UK.
Due to the negative impact of grey squirrels, the Wildlife Trust states that time is running out for our red squirrels; “without conservation management req squirrels could become extinct in England in approximately ten years”.
How to identify a squirrel
Did you know? The term squirrel originates from the Greek term for ‘shadow tail’, as squirrels belong to the genus Sciurus, from the Greek ‘skia’ (shadow) and ‘oura’ (tail).
Features of a Grey Squirrel
As their rather apt name suggests, the grey squirrel has mostly grey fur; however, they can also have patches of red/brown around their faces and legs (not to be confused with the red squirrel).
The grey squirrel is distinguishable from the red squirrel not only by colour but also by its larger size and smaller ears that don’t have tufts. They can typically be found sitting upright, with their bushy tail arched over their backs.
They are usually very active during the day and can be found foraging for food in trees, on the ground in wooded areas, or even in your back garden!
Features of a Red Squirrel
Again, as its name suggests, the red squirrel can be easily identified by its reddish-brown coat and pale underside. In addition, their fur can vary from bright ginger to dark brown, depending on the time of year.
Red squirrels are also much smaller in size than the grey squirrel and can be distinguished by the large tufts of fur that develop behind their ears. The colour of their tails is also significant in identifying red vs grey as the grey squirrels tail contains multiple colours. In contrast, the red squirrel’s tail is always exclusively one colour.
They tend to spend the majority of their time in the trees, not coming down to ground-level as much as their grey counterparts do.
Identifying a squirrel on your property
Squirrels often gain access to a property via loose panels or existing holes in your roofline, or they can even use their impressive incisors to create their way inside. This is most common in the autumn and winter months when the squirrels seek food and shelter.
Several signs suggest evidence of squirrels in your home:
- Noises coming from your loft space. Squirrels tend to be most active in the early morning and early evening, so listen out for rustling and scratching noises in your loft and/or walls during these times.
- Droppings. Squirrel droppings are the most telltale sign of a squirrel infestation. Have a look around your loft space for droppings, but be careful as these are full of bacteria and should be removed by a professional.
- Urine. The strong, undeniable scent of urine will be prevalent throughout your home as it emanates through the walls and vents.
- Nests. Squirrels are known to use insulation from your home, as well as exterior materials to build their nests. Look out for torn up shreds of insulation and other materials such as leaves and debris in your loft.
Please visit our pest control squirrels page if you’d like further help identifying a squirrel on your London property.
Why are squirrels considered rodents?
Squirrels are rodents as they have the defining characteristic of a rodent: the set of incisors in both the upper and lower jaw that never stop growing. This particular feature places the squirrel family in the Rodentia order of mammals.
Are squirrels vermin?
Vermin are defined as being wild animals that are believed to be harmful to crops, farm animals, or game. Or animals who carry disease. However, other definitions describe vermin merely as being “a nuisance”.
In 1981 a law was passed determining the grey squirrel to be vermin. Why? Due to their destructive nature and the negative effect they have on the red squirrel.
What damage can squirrels cause?
As mentioned previously, the grey squirrel is notoriously destructive in nature and causes lots of damage.
Impact on native species
The introduction of the grey squirrel has led to a massive decline in the number of red squirrels in the UK. One reason for this is the increased competition for food and shelter between the two families. In addition, the larger grey squirrel requires a higher amount of food than its smaller red cousin.
The lack of food for red squirrels also causes stress for the animal, which leads to a negative impact on their ability to breed, which then, in turn, causes a decline in numbers.
However, the main reason for the rapid decline in red squirrels is that grey squirrels carry the disease parapox (also known as squirrelpox). While the grey squirrel is immune to the disease, the red squirrel is not, and once contracted, the red squirrel will pass away within two weeks due to dehydration.
Damage to woodland
Squirrels pose a threat to trees in the form of bark stripping. As mentioned previously, squirrels have front incisors that never stop growing and need to be constantly ground down. And what better natural resource for the squirrel, living in a forest, than bark?
When the bark is stripped from the tree, it causes lasting damage, stunting the tree’s overall growth; and if stripped of enough bark, the tree will die. This then causes further issues down the line due to a lack of biodiversity in woodland areas.
Their incessant need to gnaw doesn’t end with trees! The furry pests will chew their way into your home. This then means there are access points open for all sorts of pests to gain entry through – and it can be a nightmare for your heating bill!
They will chew up anything they can find to create a nest, usually insulation and carpets to keep them toasty. Wooden beams are a delicacy for them but a huge problem for you, as left long enough could result in structural damage to your property.
Whilst they are gnawing their way through your house, the little pests will defecate wherever they like, leaving you with a lovely collection of urine and faeces to clean up.
How to get rid of squirrels?
If you believe you have squirrels in your property and would like to find out how to get rid of squirrels, please visit our article.
The safest course of action is always to seek the advice and service of a pest control professional.
How to prevent squirrels in your home?
There are several steps you can take this autumn and winter to prevent a squirrel infestation in your property, including:
- Cut back trees, branches, and ivy that may act as an access point for squirrels to get into your house.
- Have a look around your loft and the exterior of your property for any holes or damage that may serve as a warm welcome to squirrels. Block these up where necessary, ideally using metal that can’t be chewed through.
- Don’t provide accessible food sources for them, e.g. open bins, leaving bread out for birds. If you regularly feed birds in your garden, opt for a squirrel-proofed bird feeder.
There are plenty of DIY options out there for getting rid of squirrels in your home, but we do not condone the use of these – mainly for your safety and wellbeing!
If you’ve noticed squirrels in your home or property, call our specialist team on 0204 566 5522. We provide squirrel removal services throughout the southeast of England, in Croydon and all of London.