Sciurus Vulgaris doesn’t sound like a very elegant name for one of our favourite rodents, the Red Squirrel. Mount Stewart is a haven for these cute little creatures and if you come into the grounds of the estate early in the morning you are guaranteed to see them zigzagging along the hedges and walls near the Sunk Garden. Smaller than their grey cousins and weighing up to 350g, reds live in twiggy nests called dreys, hidden high above ground in tree trunk holes. Their double jointed ankles enable them to scamper up and down trees and walls with ease. The babies are called kittens and are fed by their mothers until their teeth begin to develop at about 10 weeks. As their teeth keep growing they need to keep gnawing, not only on nuts but all sorts of things like flower roots, birds’ eggs, and bulbs (sorry gardeners), and some even go for electrical wiring. Recently in England a few people noticed that soap was missing from their bathrooms. Squirrels living in the tree-lined street were caught red-handed but made a clean getaway.
This is Ruby Red, our friendly in-house squirrel although we don’t really want her inside as she was once discovered eyeing up the books in the Sitting Room. The children love meeting her when she helps with our brilliant Education Programme for Schools. Jenny Ferguson, who was up early enough to capture this photo of Ruby admiring the garden, would be pleased to take a booking for your school. Or just book the family in for a guided walk along our Red Squirrel Trail on Saturday 26th September, and take part in squirrel related activities. Don’t think this involves chewing anything unusual.
Not everyone will be aware that the original French version of the Cinderella story had her slippers made from squirrel pelts (vaire) instead of the glass version (verre). Pelts were also used as currency in Russia and Finland, useful to know for a Trivia Quiz? Oh well, maybe not.
Our squirrels help in forestry and conservation by hiding nuts and seeds in underground larders but then forgetting where some of them are, and so another tree is inadvertently planted! Red squirrels don’t hibernate but will relax and have a duvet drey day if the weather is too bad to go looking for nuts, something we have in common, zzzzzzz.