Front paws across chests; squirrel groups-sexes; guarding peanut piles or not!

Asked June 18, 2017, 11:35 PM EDT

The squirrels in my backyard come onto my deck, sit on a little table by my kitchen window and put both front paws across their chests, looking at my beseechingly to give them some peanuts. Why do they put their two front paws together across their chests?

Also what kind of social groups do squirrels live in? One male with multiple females? Groups of males and females?

And why do some squirrels take one peanut from one of several piles of peanuts I put on my deck, then run several feet away, leaving unprotected the pile they found, to eat a single peanut? Yet why do others stay with the peanut pile and eat all they can, chasing other squirrels away if they come near? Is it a hierarchal order of some kind or something else?

Gloucester County Virginia

1 Response

One can only surmise what a grey squirrel is thinking. The paws may cross the chest in a touching fashion communicating to you "I pray thee, spare a peanut for a squirrel down on his luck". If no response, the paws arms then often cross in an indignant "I don't believe you aren't yet making tracks to get me some peanuts". The question is: Did either of these forms of communication work toward the desired result? If so, then the squirrel has you trained :-)

Yes, I believe the info below can confirm that squirrels have been observed to follow a dominance hierarchy similar to other mammals.


Food and Feeding Behavior: The principle foods are seeds and nuts with acorns, beechnuts, butternuts, and hickory nuts providing the mainstay of the autumn and winter diet. Beech and nuts, because of their relative abundance in parts of the Adirondacks, make the greater contribution. The smaller seeds of maples, ashes and basswood are of lesser importance. The buds, flowers, and inner bark of all these species, and others, contribute to the late winter and spring diet. Gray squirrels feed extensively on fungi, berries, and fruits during the summer, especially the fruit of the black cherry. In the south, this species requires 1.5 g (2 pounds) of food each week. The energy requirements of Adirondack populations probably exceed this amount.

In autumn, gray squirrels clip nuts from the canopy, and scatter hoard them in the ground, relying on their keen sense of smell to retrieve them in winter when they may have to dig through a foot or more of snow. Overlooked nuts sprout, some regenerating forests. Tree cavities may function as hiding places. Too, which may explain the survival of gray squirrels residing in the Adirondacks where deep snow is normal.

Activity and Movement: Gray squirrels stay in their dens or nests for several days at a time during periods of severe winter cold, eventually visiting stores of nuts at midday. Other than these brief periods, this diurnal species is most active in the 2-3 hours after dawn and preceding dusk, with the remainder of the day spent basking on a limb or resting in the nest. Heavy cloud cover and courtship may extend activity throughout the day.

Gray squirrels are arboreal acrobats, climbing, running and leaping about trees, their sharp claws gaining a purchase on slippery bark, long tails balancing and breaking leaps, long slender bodies twisting and turning around pencil-thin branches. When alarmed, they freeze, flattening their tails and bodies to a trunk or limb on the side opposite an intruder, inching around to stay hidden.

They are equally agile on the ground, walking, hopping, bounding, and running, their tails flowing behind them, attaining speeds of 10-15 mph by combining running with leaping. Although not aquatic in any sense, this species swims well, readily entering water, and swimming distances up to several miles. Merriam observed gray squirrels swimming across lakes of the Fulton Chain.

The Social System of the Grey Squirrel

D. C. Thompson
Vol. 64, No. 3/4 (1978), pp. 305-328


The social system of the grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) was investigated. The area used by males and females expands after weaning, then stabilizes and remains the same in location and extent for life. The home range of an established individual is broadly overlapped by the home ranges of several other animals. Each established individual is regularly in contact with only a limited number of recognized neighbours with which it has well-established dominance relationships. Individual recognition promotes lowered aggressive levels between neighbours which allows each squirrel to use its entire home range evenly. Aggressive behaviour is directed toward strange squirrels, either young or immigrants, which attempt to enter this system. Thus, the established individuals hinder the settlement of new animals. Young squirrels born in a given locality have a greater chance of establishing than do immigrants. The relevance of the findings to population regulation is discussed.

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