They are everywhere — running up and down trees and walls and scolding all and sundry with that distinctive chik, chik sound. Squirrels are the most common urban wildlife (that is an oxymoron right there). Though squirrels are super cute, the fact that they belong to the rodent family is just that little bit creepy.
In myth, the Indian palm squirrel got its stripes from Lord Ram. In Rick Riordan’s Norse myth-inspired Magnus Chase novels, the giant squirrel Ratatoskr, with his scimitar-like claws, passes insults between the dragon at the foot of the world tree, Yggdrasil, and the hawk at the top.
These intelligent creatures get the full BBC treatment in The Super Squirrels. The show reveals fascinating facts about squirrels such as there are 300 different species, their nests are called dreys and they can be broadly divided into tree and ground squirrels.
The show tells the story of Billy, an orphaned red squirrel who is being cared for by Sheelagh in an animal rescue centre in Scotland. Just five days old, when he is orphaned after his tree is cut down, Sheelagh hand-feeds Billy every hour. She also prepares him for life in the wild by devising climbing tasks to strengthen his claws and getting him a companion, another baby squirrel that was attacked by a dog. When Sheelagh opens the door to Billy’s container in the wild and Billy takes his first tentative steps into the great outside, it is oddly moving.
The Super Squirrels also has learned professors at Berkeley studying squirrels for any number of things from robotics to aircraft design. How do Arctic ground squirrels who hibernate in underground burrows during the winter not freeze when temperatures plummet to -26 degrees? An academic tagged and coloured nuts to study the fox squirrel’s scatter hoarding pattern — it retrieved 90 % of the buried nuts. The Malabar giant squirrel shows off its flexible ankle joint, which allows its feet to turn 180 degrees, as it feasts on jackfruit.
Chipmunks, also a kind of squirrel, and their hoarding of nuts is the stuff of legend and also Walt Disney cartoons — remember Chip and Dale? Chipmunks collect nuts in their flexible cheek pouches allowing them to carry six nuts at a time. The squirrel’s face off with a rattlesnake is thrilling — she throws stones at it to annoy it to listen to the snake’s rattle to gauge its size. The flying or rather the gliding squirrel is of great interest to scientists as is the problem-solving capacity of the little critters. Narrated in a warm, friendly way by Olivia Colman, the show is fascinating for its in-depth study of our wild little neighbours.
The Super Squirrels premières on March 16, at 9 pm on Sony BBC Earth