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Nature Mammals

Mammals include some we might see any day, like rabbits and squirrels, and some we may only rarely catch a glimpse of, like bobcats and foxes. Here are descriptions of three common mammals, with some facts you may not know, Eastern Gray Squirrel, Cottontail Rabbit, and Raccoon.
See also Habitats for more on mammals and where they live.

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Habitat: Eastern Gray Squirrels live in dense hardwood forests. They prefer a brushy understory along river bluffs and along bottom lands. You can also find them in city parks which provide lots of food and nest sites with their large nut and shade trees. 

Homes: Eastern Gray Squirrels make two types of leafy nests: 

1) Cavities in older trees such as white oak, elm and sycamore. They use rotting holes left from a fallen tree limb and cavities hollowed out by woodpeckers. The cavity is about 6" wide, 14-16" deep with a 3" opening. The squirrel will maintain the opening at 3" by repeated gnawing on the growing tree. Cavity nests are preferred for winter nurseries. 

2) In tree forks, often about 40' high. First, twigs are placed for support, then layers of leaves. The nest is hollowed out inside the leaves and entered from the side. This type of shelter can be constructed in less than 12 hours. A well maintained leaf nest can last 2-3 years. 

Food: Hundreds of species of plants can be eaten. This includes acorns, hickory nuts, bark, twigs, buds, tree flowers, fruit and insects. The home range needs to produce 100 lbs. of food to support one Eastern Gray Squirrel. 

To store nuts for winter a squirrel carries the nut 50-100 feet and buries it 1.5 inches deep. In the winter it is found by smell. Any squirrel may eat it. Many nuts are never dug up and sprout into trees. 

Predators: coyotes, fox, bobcats, raccoons, owls, hawks, dogs, cats and humans. 

Life Span: 6 years. 

Habits: Eastern Gray Squirrels usually stay within 300' of their nest trees. As food sources change they may shift nest trees and range over a five-mile area. More than one nest tree may be used at the same time. They are most active around sunrise and in the late afternoon. They can move short distances on the ground at 15 miles per hour. Eastern Gray Squirrels live in groups. All members of the group recognize each other and know the nest sites and food sources. 

Squirrels call more often from the trees than from the ground. 

Interesting Facts

  • Sometimes squirrels migrating in search of food will swim across lakes and rivers. 
  • Sweat glands between the toes make a hot or excited squirrel leave wet tracks. 

    The location of the eyes on the head allow it to judge distance and depth for moving quickly through treetops. The eye develops a yellow lens that allows it to see better in bright and highly contrasting light. 

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    Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

    RabbitHabitat: Adaptable, but prefer brushy places where they can easily hide. Resting place is a well worn or slightly depressed place in grass or under brush. You can pile brush on a field to attract rabbits. Rabbits use regular trails. A cottontail can sit absolutely still for 15 minutes at your feet to avoid being seen, then quickly race away. The white "cotton" tail that we see as this rabbit runs is actually the underside of the tail. 

    Active early morning, late in the day and at night. The cottontail is usually quiet, but can make a high pitched cry when scared. 

    Food: Many kinds of plants. 

    Predators: Hawks, owls, crows, fox, coyote, dogs, cats, snakes and humans. 

    Range: one to five acres. 

    Lifespan: five years. A female can have thirty-five young a year. 

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Raccoon Raccoon

Habitat: Hardwood forest, or border of pond or marshy area. Home is often a den in a hollow tree. Caves, squirrel nests and abandoned buildings are also used. Each coon has several dens. Preserve hollow den trees to help this and other species. 

Raccoons are nocturnal (active at night). Adult males have a home range of about one mile if food and dens are available. They may range up to ten miles and a female three miles in search of food and dens. 

Lifespan: Less than five years. A female usually has one litter of three to four young per year. 

Food: Fruits, grasses, nuts, crayfish, fish, insects, frogs, snakes, turtles, birds eggs. 

Raccoons feel their food with their sensitive front feet. They are closely tied to water, because wetting their feet makes them more sensitive. 

They eat a lot in the fall to gain weight for the winter. By late winter they may have lost half their fall weight. 

Predators: Owls, bobcats, coyotes, dogs and humans. 

Sources: The Wild Mammals of Missouri,Charles and Elizabeth Schwartz. 
Photos: US Fish & Wildlife Service.