Acrobatic Squirrel

Maple Tree

The eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) is an incredibly common sight in our neighbourhood (though often black or reddish rather than grey). My main interaction with them is usually chasing them away from my bird feeder, and trying to keep them out of my compost. So usually I hardly notice them when I’m out walking around. However, the other day I was walking past this Maple tree (Acer sp.) and I noticed a black individual with a reddish tail sitting near the base chewing on something. It was initially this individual colour difference that caught my eye, but then as I was looking the squirrel suddenly dropped its food and did a complete back flip! I was a little startled so stood there and watched it for a couple of minutes to see what this crazy squirrel would do. It continued to return to its’ food, chewing on it for a little while and then either doing another flip or running in a quick circle, sometimes part way up the tree. However it always returned to its’ food. Finally after about 5 minutes and 7-8 crazy flips and runs it dropped its food and headed up the tree. Going over to investigate what it had been it turned out that it had been chewing on a large piece of bark. I was really starting to question this squirrel’s sanity.

Carpenter ant

But then, on closer inspection of the bark chunk, I noticed the abdomens of several ants sticking out of a crack in the bark. It turned out that the Maple was host to a large colony of Black Carpenter ants (Camponotus pennsylvanicus). The squirrel had been breaking away bark to expose the nest further up the trunk  and then eating the ants and larvae in the broken away pieces on the ground.  The reason it would occasionally freak-out was from being bitten by adult ants protecting the nest!

Darkling Beetle

Now that I was looking at the tree trunk I noticed a few other interesting insects around. First off there was a darkling beetle (family Tenebrionidae: Neatus tenebrioides) making its way up the trunk. Beetles in this group are often fungus feeders, typically feeding under the bark on fungal hyphae in the rotten wood.

There was certainly lots of fungus available in the tree. There was one species of Polyporales that was fruiting on the base of the tree.

Root encrusting fungus

The fruit body was encrusting the roots of the tree all around the base of the tree. It was also attracting a swarm of dark-winged Fungus gnats (Sciaridae). These small flies spend the majority of there lives as larvae, feeding on various forms of fungi. These were probably feeding on the fungal hyphae of this polypore. This group of flies is also the same group of flies that frequently infest house plants, where they do essentially the same thing, feeding on the fungi associated with the roots of the plant. A good example of how nature can be near us even in our homes!

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5 Responses to Acrobatic Squirrel

  1. Crabby Appleton says:

    All well and good, but did you see any Chaoboridae? A world leading entomologist told me in a private communication that they are the most important family in the world.

    • Dear Crabby,

      Unfortunately I did not see any Chaoborids on this occasion. Secondly, I don’t know who this ‘world leading entomologist’ you spoke with was but they were obviously out to lunch. The most important family in the world is obviously the Mycetophilidae (and I’m willing to say it in a public forum, not hide it in a private message!) 😉



    • phoridae says:

      Good God, chaoborids? Who cares about them? Just overhyped culicids!

  2. Dave says:

    I would agree that chaoborids are just underachieving mosquitoes when compared to mycetophilids. They are, however, a lot easier to key out.

    PS – I can’t help myself, but I’ve scribbled red ink all over my screen: possessive pronouns don’t take apostrophes – its is like his and hers, no extra punctuation.

    • Crabby Appleton says:

      Mycetophilids are lousy with grammar. They are not as smart as Gall Midges, or for that matter, as smart as Chaoborids.

      I would like to say that I like the idea of this blog and am enjoying it.


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