According to a study, squirrels adopt orphaned pups if the babies are their close relatives.
Animals often adopt orphaned babies, but only social animals. Red squirrels are asocial, territorial animals. It is rare that asocial animals adopt pups. The squirrels assess if the pups are related to them and make the adoption decision based on that.
Squirrel adoptions are rare
The cases of squirrel adoption are rare, though. The research team only came across five adoptions over two decades. The adopted pups were the adoptive mother’s nieces, nephews, siblings, or grandchildren.
Nevertheless, squirrel adoptions happen. It seems squirrels are more altruistic than we previously thought.
Red squirrels are solitary animals
Red squirrels are one of the species of squirrels found in North America.
They are small rodents with reddish-brown coats. Red squirrels average about 11-14 inches in length.
One of the most notable things about red squirrels is that they are solitary animals. They live alone and do not associate with other red squirrels, except during the breeding season.
The female raises the litter alone
Mating and breeding season for red squirrels typically occurs between February and March and from June to July. After mating, the female will build a nest in which she will raise her young alone.
Litter size ranges from three to six. The young are born blind and hairless and rely on their mother’s milk for sustenance. After about six weeks, the young begin to venture out of the nest on their own and learn to find food and build a shelter. By fall, the young are fully independent and ready to mate themselves.
Humans are used to thinking that we’re the only animals capable of empathy. The squirrel adoptions are a reminder that it’s not the case. The next time you see a squirrel, consider that she might be an adoptive mother caring for babies that aren’t biologically hers, without asking anything in return.