【Series】Spirits of the Kamuy landscape (4) The Hokkaido red squirrel

A Hokkaido red squirrel, newly plump with its winter coat

The place is a Shinto shrine in the Tokachi region, where leaves fall in multiple layers atop the ground, coloring the surface a light brown. In the shrine grove, a Hokkaido red squirrel starts eating a nut it found there.

With its winter coat completely grown, the Hokkaido red squirrel ranges up to 25 centimeters in height with ear tufts fully pointed. Mealtime is early in the morning, and in autumn its diet is mostly nuts like walnuts and acorns. When a squirrel’s belly is full, it starts to burry nuts in the ground all over. The job of preparing to pass the winter takes full concentration.

The Hokkaido red squirrel remembers where it buried its nuts. When food is scarce in the snowy season, it digs them up and eats them. Forgotten nuts can sprout from the ground as baby trees next spring. Hokkaido red squirrels carrying all sorts of nuts all over, and forgetting to eat some of them, plays a role in maintaining the diversity of the forest.

The Hokkaido red squirrel I observed grabbed nuts with dexterous paws and ate them. From time to time it twitched its nose around and checked its surroundings with its eyes. Even at mealtime, it is on constant guard against predators like the Ural owl.