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"Adopt-A-Squirrel" -- The Discovery Files

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Those neighbourhood squirrels you often see fighting over food may not seem altruistic, but new University of Guelph research has found that the critters will actually take in orphaned relatives.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Some Real (Sound effect: squirrel sounds) "Squirelly" Behavior...

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

When a baby red squirrel loses its mom, what are the chances it will be adopted by another squirrel family?

A 20-year study led by scientists from the University of Guelph (pron: Gwelf) in Ontario, monitored the behavior of red squirrels and they say that while a rare occurrence, that squirrel pup may get a new family.

You should know that typically squirrels are loners and quite territorial -- so any kind gestures like this would be unusual. Of all 7000-or-so squirrels studied, the team found only five cases of adoption. And in all five, the adopted squirrels were closely related to the family that took them in.

It seems that red squirrels recognize the call of a relative and after failing to hear that call for a few days, will investigate. When they find the pups with no adult supervision, they will sometimes carry the pups back to their own nest -- assuming a mother squirrel there is nursing.

Adoption of a stray is common among more social creatures like (Sound effect: chimp sounds) chimps or (Sound effect: lion sounds) lions. They live in extended family groups. (Sound effect: forest sounds) But it is plausible among unsociable squirrels according to the research.

The likelihood of a squirrel being befriended by a moose? We've only seen that happen once and that was a cartoon.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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