Squirrels are some of the smartest critters on the planet. Proof of this is the fact that they can survive in the wild and among us equally. With so many things about them that are both adorable and mischievous, making friends with squirrels can be quite tempting.
Many anecdotes say squirrels can recognize humans. For instance, orphaned squirrels will usually return to their human foster parents. Pet squirrels also tend to prefer one person more than the rest of the family. Besides recognizing humans, squirrels can also learn skills and retain them for years.
Their beady eyes, fluffy tails, teeny-weeny paws, silly antics — there are so many things about squirrels that make them adorable rodents.
The only thing that could make them more lovable is if they could distinguish you from other people. Well, various documented cases will tell you that it is very much possible for them to recognize you!
Keep on reading if you want to learn more about the interaction between humans and these furry animals.
When you get to the very end of this article, chances are you will admire squirrels even more.
What Does It Mean When a Squirrel Stares at You?
A squirrel will stare at you to figure out whether you are its friend or foe. What it senses will determine if it will run to safety, stay put and resume what it’s doing or come closer.
Different animals stare for different reasons.
Sometimes it is to establish dominance, while other times it is to assess whether or not they are safe. In some instances, animals stare to ask for something or show emotions.
Let’s take cats and dogs as examples…
Everyone knows that cats are extremely curious animals, which is why they tend to stare intently at you or anything else that catches their fancy.
There are times when a cat will gawk at you to know if you are going to do something interesting or ridiculous. Also, they won’t hesitate to take a long hard look at you to ensure that you are doing fine.
A cat will stare at nothing from time to time, too.
No, it’s not having a stroke — it will do that each time it hears a sound, particularly something so faint or so high-pitched that your ears cannot pick it up.
Dogs stare for different reasons.
If a dog looks straight into your eyes, chances are it is expressing its feelings for you.
But be warned: a dog can also stare to either set up or establish dominance.
Just like cats and dogs, a squirrel will stare at you for a number of reasons. You may have a difficult time figuring out the reason.
However, it’s for certain that there is one, and the challenge lies in determining what it is. And if you are planning on being chums with squirrels on your property, it is a wonderful idea to start learning why they stare.
The following are some of the possible reasons why a squirrel is staring at you intently:
- It likes to get to know you. Just like cats, squirrels are also extremely curious creatures. This is why a squirrel may be staring because it is fascinated by you. And if you try to make a chirping sound, chances are that the squirrel will come closer to check you out closely. It may even make small talk.
- It wants to eat. Is the nearby bird feeder empty? It’s likely that a squirrel is staring intently at you because it is hungry — it’s just waiting for you to hand out a treat. Luckily, a squirrel will eat just about anything that you have with you, especially if its stomach is growling.
- It’s trying to determine its next move. Because of your size, it’s not unlikely for a squirrel to see you as a threat. This is one of the reasons why it is staring at you — to see to it that you are not about to attack it. Make the wrong move, and the squirrel will surely run away due to feeling threatened.
- It recognizes you. If you happen to feed squirrels on your property on a regular basis, chances are that a squirrel staring at you is one of those that get to benefit, and it knows who you are. It could also be an orphaned baby squirrel that you once took care of and released when it already grew up.
What should you do if a squirrel won’t stop staring
If a squirrel keeps staring and is not making any sound, it probably means no harm and would likely get tired and go about its daily life. But if it is making a weird sound, consider backing off. Chances are it’s not communicating with you but with other squirrels, telling them that you’re a threat.
You may find squirrels adorable. However, some squirrels in some instances may not feel the same way.
A scientist believes that he was able to make out the language squirrels use when a threat or predator is in sight. He used a computer program that measured and analyzed their sharp barks.
The said scientist says that you should leave a squirrel alone if it’s staring and making any of these sounds:
- “kuk kuk kuk”
- “quaa quaa”
- “muk muk”
No, a squirrel is not trying to have a chat with you if it’s making any of the above-mentioned noises.
What it’s doing is telling every squirrel nearby to be wary because there is a potential threat around — you!
If you don’t want to get on the nerves of a scurry of threatened squirrels, retreat and leave the staring squirrel alone.
But then again, if it seems like a squirrel is not blinking for a long time, there is a huge possibility that it is simply taking a nap. Yes, squirrels are some of the few animals that can sleep with their eyes open.
There is nothing else to do but keep quiet and let it take a trip to dreamland.
Are Squirrels Considered Intelligent Animals?
Despite having a small brain, which is about the size of a walnut, a squirrel is an extremely intelligent creature. It can carry out skills that can help it survive, from deceiving food thieves to communicating with other squirrels. Because it is intelligent, a squirrel can recognize humans, too.
Many of the smartest animals on the face of the planet are large mammals. Some common examples are whales, dolphins, horses, pigs and chimpanzees.
And if you look for listings of clever animals on the internet, chances are that some critters present on the majority of them may seem like they could have been added by mistake.
They are none other than squirrels. Well, the ones who made those online lists made no mistake — squirrels are indeed some of the most intelligent animals around.
Here are some telltale signs that these beady-eyed cuties are extremely smart:
- They can find buried nuts. For a long time, it was believed that squirrels are able to retrieve buried nuts by using their sense of smell. However, according to recent studies, the memory of squirrels plays a bigger part in the nut-finding task. Proof of this is the fact that squirrels tend to come back to their own food caches than the food caches of other squirrels. Also, experiments suggest that squirrels use landmarks when burying and digging up nuts.
- They can throw off food thieves. Squirrels are very good at hiding nuts to make sure they will never go hungry in case of an emergency or when wintertime strikes. However, they are also very good at pretending to bury something. Squirrels do this when they sense that food thieves or other squirrels are watching. Making decoy food caches is an effective way to keep bandits from getting their hands on the real deal.
- They can communicate with other squirrels. Earlier, it was mentioned that a squirrel makes strange noises to warn other squirrels in the area about a potential threat. Well, other than weird vocalizations, a squirrel can also communicate with the rest of the gang with the scents it leaves behind as well as its tail — it can twitch it in many ways to convey something. By the way, a squirrel also relies on its tail to attract a potential mate.
- They can decide between burying or eating. As soon as a squirrel gets its hands on a nut, it neither buries nor eats it. What this beady-eyed critter does first is carefully inspect the quality of the nut. From there, it will decide whether the nut is perfect for burying for later use or immediate consumption. Scientists say that when a squirrel shakes its head when holding a nut, it means that the prized possession is better buried than eaten.
- They can pretend to be top predators. In California, squirrels are some of the most feared woodland creatures. This is especially true for those that smell like rattlesnakes. What these squirrels do is that they chew the skin of dead rattlesnakes. Afterward, they lick themselves to spread the scent of the rattlesnake all over their bodies. Because of this, animals that tend to prey on squirrels will stay away from them and their nests.
- They can outsmart rattlesnakes. Speaking of rattlesnakes, these venomous predators are usually no match for squirrels. What squirrels do to scare away rattlesnakes is that they kick dirt and pebbles in the faces of rattlesnakes. What’s more, squirrels heat up their tails, make them erect, and move them from side to side. This creates an infrared glow that rattlesnakes can detect, causing them to slither away.
You may think that the things mentioned above are pure instinct and not necessarily a display of intelligence.
Well, if you are still not convinced that squirrels are smart critters, don’t stop reading now.
Below you will come across a couple of things that might convince you once and for all that squirrels are intelligent alright, as well as reinforce the foundations of the answer to the question “can squirrels recognize humans?”
Proofs That Squirrels are Brighter Than You Think
In some instances, one must be proactive in bringing out the best in squirrels.
For instance, squirrels can be trained to learn tricks, some of which they can perform on the silver screen or carry out trouble-free many years after.
Here are two testimonies that squirrels are smart and thus can be capable of recognizing humans:
Real Squirrels Instead of CGI Were Used
In the 2005 remake of the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, there was a scene that took place in a nut-cracking factory.
In the said scene, dozens of squirrels were cracking open shelled nuts and then dropping the nuts onto a conveyor belt. Did you know that those were real squirrels instead of CGIs?
Director Tim Burton wanted to use actual squirrels. For it to happen, he signed up an animal trainer named Michael Alexander. Together with his team of trainers, Alexander trained a total of 40 grey squirrels.
Using CGI would have made filming easier.
Instead, Burton wanted to take the more challenging route. The squirrels were trained for 19 long weeks to make one single scene happen without CGI.
The furry extras were trained to sit on stools and sort nuts. The nuts given to the squirrels were made of metal so that they wouldn’t eat them.
However, during the scene when the squirrels attacked the spoiled brat, Veruca Salt, for wanting to keep one of the rodents, CGI squirrels were used. The squirrel that knocked on the child’s forehead was CGI, too.
The feat Charlie and the Chocolate Factory achieved is proof that squirrels can be trained, which is a telltale sign that they are smart creatures.
And because they can be taught things, just like dogs can be trained to fetch and play dead or cats that can be taught to give high fives, it is possible for them to make for excellent pets.
Applying Problem-Solving Skills Learned Years Ago
Back in 2017, scientists from the University of Exeter in the UK found out that squirrels are capable of applying skills learned some time ago to new situations.
In an experiment conducted several months in the past by the said scientists, five squirrels were studied. The little participants had to press a lever if they wanted to get hazelnuts.
During the first attempt, the squirrels took an average of eight seconds to learn that pressing a lever enabled them to get rewards.
After a few more trials, it only took the squirrels an average of two seconds to do what they had to do.
Nearly two years after that experiment, the scientists decided to get the same set of squirrels involved in the very same study.
What they found out was staggering: the squirrels still knew that pressing a lever was the key to getting hazelnuts — and it only took them an average of three seconds to apply their previously-learned skill.
But what made everything even more astonishing is that the squirrels still had a clear idea on what to do even though a slightly different version of the experiment conducted almost two years ago was carried out.
This only proves that squirrels have a phenomenal long-term memory.
On the other hand, many animals are not as blessed. For instance, chimpanzees can remember things for about 20 seconds only. And by the way, elephants have the shortest memory, despite the saying “elephants never forget”.
If they can remember problem-solving skills learned years before, squirrels can certainly remember faces.
Do squirrels get attached to humans?
Squirrels can definitely get attached to humans. They make for playful and loving pets, and it’s not uncommon for them to get attached to their owners. However, squirrels have the tendency to pick only one person to get attached to, which is an undeniable proof that they can be loyal pets as well.
Needless to say, squirrels are also capable of giving unconditional love like other pets. However, before turning one into your pet, check first that it is legal in your state to keep squirrels as pets.
Just Before You Wave to a Squirrel
There is no denying that squirrels are some of the most intelligent animals on the face of the planet.
They can be trained to act, and they can be taught skills that they can still apply after a long time. This display of intelligence is indicative that squirrels have an excellent long-term memory, which enables them to recognize humans.
So, if a squirrel is staring at you, there is a huge possibility that it recognizes you for giving it food before or taking good care of it while it was still little and its mom was no longer around.
But if it’s making strange noises while gawking at you, it’s a completely different story — leave it alone!
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