How do squirrels climb down trees head-first?

Most people have noticed that squirrels can climb down trees head-first.

What you may not know is how they do it. Tree squirrels have ankle joints that are adapted to be super flexible. When a squirrel wants to climb down it can rotate its feet 180 degrees, dig its claws into the trunk and hang from its back legs.

In human terms this would mean that you could rotate your feet around till they were pointing backwards.

Sometimes squirrels will even hang on by their back legs and swing like a bat. Our backyard squirrels will often do this in the morning, probably to stretch their backs.

Also squirrels have very sharp claws (which is a good reason you should be very careful if you try and feed a squirrel by hand!) and when they dig their claws in with all four legs they can get an amazingly strong grip on a tree limb.

They can even climb along the underside of a branch.

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2 Responses to How do squirrels climb down trees head-first?

  1. Vicki says:

    We are raising an orphaned squirrel in Iowa. He is about 11 weeks, he is grayish brown with all white feet. Is he a brown or gray squirrel?

    • admin says:

      The terminology is confusing:

      In Iowa there are three species of tree squirrel:

      Red Squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)
      Grey Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis)
      Fox Squirrels (Sciurus niger)

      Red squirrels are small and usually reddish brown on top with white bellies. These are less common in urban areas and are usually found in pine forests.

      Grey squirrels are usually grey on top and white underneath, but despite the name, they can come in: black, reddish brown and even white, or any combination of the three. The colour seems to vary a lot more in urban areas.

      Fox squirrels are usually dark grey on top with reddish brown bellies. They are the largest of the three.

      It’s hard to say from your description, but I’d guess a Grey Squirrel. Do you have a picture?

      [If you'd like your baby squirrel featured on our site, I would love to do a post about him (her?)

      If you have pictures, that would be great, also having the squirrel's "backstory", how you found him, etc, would make the post more interesting.]

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