Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Genisis. Genisis Wonders, “Why do squirrels run from you?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Genisis!
We were having a picnic in the Wonderopolis park the other day when we overheard an interesting conversation between a couple of squirrels:
Squirrel 1: Hey Rocky! What are you doing here? I thought you were living in that house at the edge of the park.
Squirrel 2: Hey Sandy! Yeah, I lived there for a couple of weeks, but there ended up being too many rules to follow.
Squirrel 1: Rules? What rules?
Squirrel 2: All sorts of rules! Don't eat the remote control. Don't scratch the curtains. Don't eat the dining room furniture. Don't go to the bathroom on the kitchen floor. Don't eat the baseboards.
Squirrel 1: Wow! That's a lot of rules. It's almost like they didn't want you to be a squirrel!
Squirrel 2: Tell me about it! And the humans kept making me take selfies with them for something called Instagram. It was exhausting.
If you've ever seen squirrels up close, you know how adorable they are. How could something so small, cute, and furry not make a great pet? Squirrels on cartoons, such as Sandy Cheeks and Rocky the Flying Squirrel, seem quite intelligent, too.
If you've ever thought a squirrel would make a great pet, you're not alone. In fact, squirrels used to be very popular as pets many years ago.
The early colonists in what would become the United States of America often kept wild animals as pets, and squirrels were the most popular. In 1722, Benjamin Franklin even wrote a tribute to a friend's pet squirrel named Mungo, who passed away after being attacked by a dog.
By the mid- to late-18th century, squirrels were commonly sold as pets. It wasn't uncommon for wealthy urban families to include pet squirrels in family portraits. Some of these paintings can even be found in famous museums.
Books on pet squirrels and how to care for them were popular by the 19th century. However, over time, many people came to realize a fundamental truth: squirrels are wild animals that are not easy to care for.
Squirrels are rodents that have never been domesticated. They're also very 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…
They also have razor-sharp teeth and claws that can slice easily through clothes, curtains, and human skin. Their teeth also never stop growing, so they must constantly chew on hard substances to wear them down. This often results in indiscriminate chewing on anything in sight, including baseboards, cabinets, furniture, etc.
Even if you could keep a squirrel from eating your furniture, its normal diet is a finicky mix of nuts, insects, fruits, and other items that aren't easy to procure for the average human. If you go to the pet store, you won't find any big bags of "squirrel chow" sitting around. Keeping a squirrel nourished and healthy is no easy feat.
Beginning in the early 20th century, squirrels were increasingly seen as pests, not pets. Many states included squirrels 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.