ireland's squirrels

Red Squirrels are small charismatic native mammals which depend on a woodland habitat to live, eat and breed. Grey squirrels are non-native and were introduced into Ireland at the beginning of the 20th century (see below).

Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)

Body length
20-22cm

Native Squirrel
Weight
250-300g
Colour
Bright red to dark brown
Ears
Tufted in winter
Habitat
Predominately coniferous forest
Diet
Seeds, nuts, buds and berries
Breeding
2-3 litters with 3-4 kittens
Pox Virus
Dies within 14 days of infection

Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

25-27cm

North American Squirrel
600g
Grey
Never Tufted
Broadleafed forest
Same as red, plus acorns
3-4 litters with 5-6 kittens
Carrier but unaffected

 

In 1911 a pair of grey squirrels is believed to have been given as a gift to a resident of Longford Castle, Co. Longford, from where they quickly escaped. When the greys arrive into an area of woodland the resident red squirrels usually disappear within 5 to 15 years. No one is sure exactly how this happens but it is believed that the grey can out-compete the reds in accessing food and as a result the reds starve and become unable to gain enough weight to successfully breed. The grey squirrels may act as a carrier of the pox virus which does them no harm but will kill a red squirrel within 14 days of infection. A pox infected red squirrel will have pox lesions on its face, paws and genital area. This infection causes respiratory problems and prevents the red squirrel from eating.

 

Distribution of red and grey squirrels in the last 40 years
(The Irish Squirrel Survey 2007 - Dr. Michael Carey)

1970
1970s
1990
1990s
2007
2007