Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Genisis. Genisis Wonders, “Why do squirrels run from you?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Genisis!

What do squirrels and hippos have in common? At first glance, not much! Hippos are much bigger, and squirrels are much better at scaling trees. When you look closer though, you may find that squirrels and hippos have more in common than you think. They’re both mammals. They both mainly eat plants. One of their most interesting similarities is that they’ve both been kept as pets!

Which do you think would make a better pet? President Calvin Coolidge would tell you he had a great time with his pet hippo, Billy! However, many would think a pet squirrel might be easier to care for. After all, they’re related to mice, which many people keep as pets.

Bring a squirrel into your home, though, and you may find yourself in a pickle! Just like any pet, you’d need to teach your squirrel new rules. How would you teach your squirrel not to eat the remote control? What if they scratched up the curtains? Do you think you could convince your pet not to eat the dining room furniture? What will you do if your squirrel goes to the bathroom on the kitchen floor?

Still, if you’ve ever seen squirrels up close, you know how cute they are. You might still be tempted to have a pet that’s so small and furry. Squirrels on cartoons seem quite intelligent, too. Many of us would love to study sea critters with Sandy Cheeks or go on an adventure with Rocky the Flying Squirrel. If you still think a squirrel would make a great pet, you’re not alone. In fact, squirrels were popular pets many years ago.

Early American colonists often kept wild animals as pets. They adopted badgers, raccoons, and even buffalo. However, squirrels were the most popular. In 1722, Benjamin Franklin even wrote a tribute to a friend’s pet squirrel named Mungo after he passed away.

By the mid-18th century, squirrels were commonly sold as pets. It wasn’t rare for families to include pet squirrels in family portraits. Some of these paintings can even be found in famous museums. However, over time, many people came to realize that squirrels are wild animals and not easy to care for. Squirrels are energetic creatures that need a lot of space and exercise. The trees in a forest provide a perfect playground. The inside of a house? Not so much…

Squirrels also have razor-sharp teeth and claws that can cut easily through clothes, curtains, and human skin. Their teeth never stop growing, so they chew on hard substances to wear them down. This often results in them chewing on anything in sight. Look around you — what items in your home might a squirrel chew on? You can see how this could cause problems.

To stop your squirrel from eating your furniture, you’ll need to feed them regularly.  If you go to the pet store, you won’t find any big bags of “squirrel chow” sitting around. Instead, you’ll need to make your squirrel’s meals yourself. Squirrels eat a mix of nuts, insects, and fruits. Nuts and fruits might be easy to find, but what about insects? Do you even own a butterfly net? Keeping a squirrel fed and healthy is no easy task.

Beginning in the early 20th century, people saw squirrels as pests, not pets. Squirrels were protected in wildlife conservation and exotic pet laws. Today, it’s illegal to keep a squirrel as a pet in many states. Animal experts believe this is a good thing, because squirrels are wild animals that, despite their cuteness, should remain in the wild.

Standards: NGSS.LS2.A, NGSS.LS4.C, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.9, CCRA.SL.1

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