|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
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
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
- 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.
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
Range: one to five acres.
Lifespan: five years. A female can have thirty-five young
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.
than five years. A female usually has one litter of three to four young
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
Sources: The Wild Mammals of Missouri,Charles and Elizabeth Schwartz.
Photos: US Fish & Wildlife Service.