Furry Wars: Red Squirrel vs Grey Squirrel
Autumn in the UK is a time of occasional rain, but the layered mountains and forests are as picturesque and dreamlike as a brilliantly colored painting. If you come to the UK during this season, you will definitely have the experience of being molested by squirrels to molesting squirrels.
In the autumn of England, although there is rain from time to time, the layers of forests and mountains are like a colorful painting, like a poem, like a dream. If you come to England in this season, you will definitely have the experience of being molested by squirrels to molesting squirrels.
What many people don’t realize, however, is that these grey squirrels are not indigenous to the UK and actually cause damage to our woodlands, further degrading the indigenous red squirrel’s habitat.
The English red squirrel is arguably one of the most beautiful Eurasian red squirrels, and as such is a favorite of the British. In the 19th century, a plague killed many English red squirrels. To make up for the lack of English red squirrels in the population, gray squirrels were introduced from the United States to Cheshire, England in 1876. After more than 100 years, gray squirrels became more aggressive and adaptable than red squirrels, so their population began to slowly expand while red squirrels rapidly declined.
Red Squirrel vs Grey Squirrel: saving the red squirrels
However, according to a recent survey by Red Squirrels of Northern England (RSNE) (which is one of the UK’s largest citizen science conservation programs), red squirrels haven’t disappeared entirely.
Overall results show that the current red squirrel range has remained the same, with red recorded at 43% of sites, a 1% increase on last year. Gray squirrels were found at 46% of sites, a 2% decrease from 2018.
However, life for gray squirrels is not easy in general. In order to protect the British red squirrel, a native species, the UK government has been trapping large numbers of gray squirrels since January 2006 in order for them to reach ecological balance, a move supported by most conservation groups.
Squirrel traps have been set up in Regent’s Park and on Primrose Hill to catch gray squirrels. The head of the park insisted that “the gray squirrel population must be controlled to protect the fragile ecosystem.”
Red Squirrel vs Grey Squirrel: pine martens
To better address the problem, the UK has even introduced pine martens (an endangered Victorian-era animal that only survives in the wild in the Scottish Highlands) into the habitat to control the squirrel population, including trapping and scaring off squirrels. They belong to the same family as otters and weasels, and are similar in size to domestic cats, with a slender body, brownish fur, and a distinctive cream-colored bib on their throats.
There are reportedly only about 20 pine martens left in England, but 18 were recently captured in Scotland and released into the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire to deal with non-native gray squirrels.
The North American gray squirrel was first introduced to Britain and Ireland as a pet in the 19th and 20th centuries, and since then, the gray squirrel has gradually dominated the local squirrel community with its superior adaptability and reproduction. The local red squirrels have been defeated by the North American gray squirrels and have almost gone extinct. According to a survey conducted in 2007, the number of red squirrels in the United Kingdom alone dropped from an estimated 3.5 million to about 25,000 due to the invasion of the gray squirrels.
There are a number of reasons for this result, such as the fact that British gray squirrels are larger and have more fat to overwinter. For example, English gray squirrels carry the squirrel pox virus that spreads to red squirrels, a deadly virus they are immune to, and then there are no local species that can control their populations.
In order to cope with the gray squirrel infestation, the locals have used every possible method from sterilizing captured gray squirrels, to encouraging hunting, to systematic poisoning, and even putting them on the dinner table, but with little success. It wasn’t until the locals said, “They’re everywhere,” that someone remembered the pine marten.
As a result, attempts were made to introduce, breed and release pine martens from other regions. Surprisingly, the pine marten, which had been given the job, was able to fulfill its mission and save the red squirrels from defeat. In particular, a survey conducted in 2014 showed that the pine marten became the main reason for the decline of the gray squirrel population in North America.
Moreover, with the increase in the number of pine marten populations in the wild in recent years, the number of North American gray squirrels has been on a decreasing trend, while the number of native red squirrels gradually began to increase. This has boosted the confidence of the locals and given the pine marten a bad rap, making it the “invasive species finisher”.
Researchers sifting through pine marten feces have shown that pine martens eat both types of squirrels, but are more likely to prey on gray squirrels. Pine martens are omnivores and are not picky eaters, much less able to tell who their “homeboys” are, so the reason they eat more gray squirrels is in the squirrels’ own habits.
Pine martens as predators will use scent to mark territory and communicate with each other, as their long-term prey in the native red squirrels, has been able to make behavioral responses to these scents and try to avoid the pine marten, thus increasing the chances of survival. North American gray squirrels, on the other hand, as outsiders, are wary of pine marten scent, so pine marten predation success is high.
This is one of the key manifestations of the native species in the local ecology and the reason for the increase in the local red squirrel population. But biologists warn that pine martens are not a long-lasting remedy against gray squirrels, and they must be made more effective in as short a time as possible. Because prey species can sometimes develop behavioral responses to new predators in just a few generations, no one knows if gray squirrels will develop anti-predator behavior.