When most people in the world know Japan for its crowded, bustling cities and enriched culture, you might not think that our country can also be a paradise for wild animals.
Yes, you heard it right.
From the frosty north to the tropical south, Japan boasts an impressive range of landscapes and fauna.
There is plenty of space for wildlife in much of its mountainous, forested and uninhabited area.
Anyway, ‘animals in Japan’ is not our topic for today, but I am here to tell you about a cute little creature, a squirrel.
If you like this adorable animal, you might be wondering, are there squirrels in Japan?
Well, the answer is YES! There are!
Keep reading if you are interested to know all the details about it.
Japanese Squirrels: Satisfy Your Curiosity
Here I will inform you of every ins and outs about a Japanese squirrel to satisfy your thirsty mind.
At first, let’s know about their appearance.
How Do They Look?
The squirrel is one of the native animals in Japan.
When you first see this animal, the first word that will be slipped from your moth is “aww! So cute!”.
Yes, that’s how it looks.
With a bushy tail, large and prominent eyes, sharp claws, and big tufted ears, its look is very adorable. You might even mistake it for stuffed toys.
Their front is white, and the back is mostly brown. The brown fur may have a slight red mark on the backside and hints of orange on the shoulders, hips, and lower sides.
Now moving on to the size, their body size is exactly the same as a human shoe, ranging from 6 to 8.5 inches, where the tail itself adds another 5 to 7 inches when fully extended.
There is no size variation between males and females, but you can easily distinguish them by observing the obvious genital differences.
Now, lemme tell you an interesting fact about this cute little creature.
Surprisingly, some parts of their body color change with the seasonal alteration.
In summer, their fur remains red-orange, while in winter, the fur turns into a slightly grayish or light brown color around the back and tail as a form of camouflage.
Well, does this cute-looking animal behave like a cutie? Aren’t you curious to know that?
Let’s dig into it now.
What About Their Behavior?
Japanese squirrels are diurnal and remain active throughout the year. It is mostly a solitary species, but the adults may nest together, especially in winter.
Though they have a solitary nature, Japanese squirrels tend to have distinctive hierarchies based on gender, size, and aggressiveness, which play an important role in the mating season.
However, each individual tries to maintain a home range, which is a few acres in size. It marks its home range with branches or tree trunks using urine as well as secretions from a gland from its chin.
According to different studies, this species does foot-stamping, chucking calls, tail flagging, and a combination of moaning and teeth chattering to communicate with each other. Most of these are related to aggressive or mating behaviors.
Anyway, the squirrel is well known for its iconic foraging behavior, which begins with the start of the fall season.
The squirrels seem to have an exceptional talent for how to access food.
To be prepared for the lean winter month, the squirrels work hard to gather hundreds of nuts, arrange them by quality and weight, and then hide them for weeks or months at a time.
Surprising! Isn’t it?
During winter, the squirrels do not go for a total state of hibernation, but they slow down their activity to conserve energy. Until the arrival of spring, they live off fat and food stores.
Besides this artistic work of food collection, you need to appreciate their prodigious memory too.
They can remember the nearby landmarks and locate the food caches with their amazing sense of smell. Even if the food caches are buried deep under several layers of snow, they can easily find it.
Apart from this, the squirrels are incredibly acrobatic and agile. Whether it is a tree, branch, small wire, pole, or even a fence, they can climb everything without much trouble.
Discovering some interesting and fascinating facts about Japanese squirrels, you might be eagerly waiting to know more.
Okay, now let’s find out about the habitat of this Japanese squirrel.
Japanese Squirrel Habitat
As the name suggests, you can only find Japanese squirrels in the island country Japan.
The natural habitats of this cute little animal include the Shikoku, Honshu, and Kyushu Islands of Japan. However, it has started disappearing from the western island of Kyushu.
The increased forest disintegration by humans and the resulting habitat loss are driving this animal to the brink of extinction.
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The Japanese squirrel prefers to live in lowland mixed forests and the lower slopes of forested mountains. You can also find them in suburban and even urban environments with enough tree cover.
You might be wondering why a tree? Yes, I forgot to tell you that the Japanese squirrels live in trees, which means they are arboreal species.
Subalpine areas with pinewoods and natural forests with mixed species of trees are the area where you can find the squirrels most.
They remain most busy and active in the early morning and take a quick nap in a tree during the daytime. They make a few ball-shaped nests in trees and switch between them.
Anyway, Japanese squirrels usually have three to six offspring.
Well, now that you know about their habitat, let’s dig into their food habits.
Japanese Squirrel’s Diet
Japanese squirrels are mainly herbivores, while they are also known to consume insects.
Their herbivorous diet includes nuts, seeds, young leaves, buds, fruits, fungi, flowers, etc.
Apart from these, Japanese walnuts seem to be a significant staple of their diet.
Squirrels’ cutting teeth continuously grow to compensate for the wear and tear that comes from their herbivorous diet.
You can say that the squirrel is an expert in choosing seeds and nuts, as it picks only the most nutritious ones.
They tend to eat smaller nuts and seeds immediately, while larger seeds tend to be stored in the ground for the lean winter months.
Well, as I said earlier, I would discuss every ins and outs of this cute animal.
Now it’s time to talk about Japanese Squirrel reproduction and life cycle.
Reproduction & Life Cycle
Female Japanese squirrels are polyestrous with two mating periods per year, one from May to June and the other from February to March.
When a female becomes adult enough, several males chase after her to ensure mating rights.
A single male has multiple female partners, and the largest and most dominant male can usually secure the most mates.
And for female squirrels, fertility is signified by body size and social rank. They tend to get the most attention from males.
After a 40-day gestation period, a litter of two and six young ones is born at once. They are born mostly blind and helpless with a body of only one inch.
The females raise the young in leaf nests, den cavities, or burrows until they are weaned. The males don’t seem to be involved in the rearing of the young.
Mother’s milk is their only food for the first two months. After that, they begin to forage on their own. These baby squirrels become mature and start to reproduce by the following spring.
The survival rate of these kits depends on the body size of the mother. If the female loses too much weight during lactation, the kits are less likely to survive the first few months after birth.
Speaking of the average lifespan of Japanese squirrels, it has not been estimated yet. However, based on a study of some closely related species, it is believed that if they can avoid diseases and predation, they can live more than 10 years in the wild and up to 15 years in captivity.
So, that’s the life cycle of Japanese squirrels.
I am talking about Japanese squirrels but not talking about flying squirrels! It cannot happen.
Yes, right now, I will inform you of another prominent squirrel species that is native to Japan, which is the Japanese flying squirrel.
Japanese Flying Squirrel
Japan is home to two types of cute flying squirrels—the Japanese dwarf flying squirrel and the Siberian flying squirrel (also known as Ezo momonga).
Well, at first, I need to clarify one fact about these flying squirrels.
As the name suggests, these squirrels actually can’t fly. Instead, they use a membrane called the patagium to glide from tree to tree to avoid predators like owls, cats, weasels, and coyotes.
They are well-known for their adorable appearance with big eyes and small stature. In fact, these squirrels are so famous in Japan that they are even used on Sapporo’s metro card as a design.
If you are interested to know further, you can check out the below sections.
a. Japanese Dwarf Flying Squirrel
Living in the sub-alpine and boreal evergreen forests of the Shikoku, Honshu, and Kyushu Islands, these nocturnal animals get mixed up with the trees with their coloring.
With a body of around 8 inches and a tail growing up to 5.5 inches, their small size really makes them hard to spot.
Feeding on seeds, tree leaves, fruits, bark, and buds, these squirrels forage at night and pass the days in the holes of trees.
Though they only mate once or twice a year, their population is abundant, and they are not listed as endangered species by the IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature).
b. Siberian Flying Squirrel
This population is found at the other end of Japan, on the northern island of Hokkaido. It is locally known as Ezo momonga.
Their size is the same as the Japanese dwarf flying squirrel, but the coloring is gray all over instead of brown.
The Siberian flying squirrel is only limited to Hokkaido in Japan, whereas as a whole, the species ranges from the Baltic Sea to Siberia.
These adorable critters are also nocturnal like the dwarf flying squirrels, though females and the young occasionally go out for food during the day.
They love to use woodpecker holes as their nesting spots and then glide from tree to tree to find nuts, berries, seeds, and cones.
They are tiny, but their cute, cartoonish features have made them popular in Japan.
Well, you have already gathered a lot of information regarding Japanese squirrels.
I have nothing more to let you know. Let’s conclude it here.
So, are there squirrels in Japan?
I guess you already have your answer. Besides this, I tried to provide you with all the details about this cute little species of Japan, including the flying ones.
I hope I have been able to quench the desire of your curious mind.
Lastly, have a good day.