Saturday, April 11, 2009

Sciurus Keramikos

Whence squirrels? And where to next?

"Science tells us that the bushytail horde evolved out of the primordial ooze beginning with Paramys in the late Paleocene (about 55 million years ago). Paramys sported a mostly squirrel-like skeleton but without the arboreal adaptations. It also had a primitive jaw musculature which modern squirrels still retain. "The first critter we would recognize as a skwerl was Protosciurus. It had the unique ear structure of modern squirrels and looked little different than today's slavering, over-agitated, arboreal nutzys.

"The first fossilized Protosciurus bones were found in North America and date to the early Oligocene (23-37 million years ago). Thus, experts theorize that skwerls originated in North America, possibly in the Pacific Northwest. From there, they spread around the world culminating in a frenzied gambol into South America about 3-4 million years ago. "Sciurus, the modern squirrel genus, arose in the Miocene and has not changed since then. Among the rodents, squirrels are considered living fossils." (

The Miocene epoch occurred between 23.03 and 5.33 million years ago. During all those intervening years either (a) things have been going pretty darn good for the little gray critters obviating any need to improve the species or (b) attempted renovations simply did not work either due to bad design, rotten luck, or poor marketing.

Now there is this, Sciurus Keramikos, Sciuridae version 4.0, the world's first pottery encased squirrel, currently in Beta Testing on the flowering crab tree just outside our family room windows. (Please click on photo to enlarge)

The outer shell is a fish-shaped bird feeder. Shortly after breakfast I normally walk out into the yard and place a small scoop of black oily sunflower seeds into the pottery holder. Its shape is designed to attract chickadees and other small birds that prefer to dine in close-fitting, dark environments. Occasionally it does.

Most of the time however it is immediately set upon by our regular band of a.m. marauding squirrels who either hang head down from the attaching wire and snatch food from either end, or crawl inside the device and contort themselves into positions that allow for the proper ingesting of all the food therein. By the time that the squirrels head back to their drays for post-breakfast-pre-lunch siestas the feeder is totally devoid of seeds.

"Natural selection occurs when an organism has a trait that enables it to survive and reproduce better than the rest of the population." (Squirrel evolution? by Shaun Doyle)

Hawks frequently circle over our yard, coveting the delectable meat dishes that unknowingly are offering themselves as the protein course on our tree limb buffet table.

Neighborhood cats prowl the area, searching stealthily for special presents to give to their providers -- for which in exchange they hope to receive a more civilized gourmet meal, preferably ahi salmon with imbedded lobster chunks.

It is only natural that during those rare moments in the day when the squirrels are not thinking about eating, they are considering how to keep themselves from being eaten.

Hence the makeshift armadillo shell.

It does seem to be impenetrable to either talon or claw and thus should enable the squirrels to survive with impunity from their natural enemies. As for the second variable in the natural selection formula I guess that depends on the tiny rodent's ability to contort itself, this time with a partner, within the confines of a small dark space.

Something I suspect that they had figured out well before the dawn of the Miocene epoch.

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