When I first met Mimi a few months ago (in my back yard), it was clear that she was a nursing mama. Her teets were obvious when she sat on her hind legs, bare of fur, and her body was larger than most of my other squirrel neighbours.
At first when I noticed her fur markings I wondered if she might have mange or a condition of some sort. But as I got to know her, and see her almost every day, it was clear she was healthy and mange free. She has a mama vest!
Mama squirrels pull out their own fur to line their nest. The fur ensures that their babies stay warm and dry on cold spring and autumn nights.
Think about that for a sec. Can you imagine pulling out your own body hair to line your baby’s crib?!?? Not just grooming ones self and saving what gets brushed out, but actually pulling out your own healthy fur. Wow.
So, of course, I looked into it. Do other animals do that, too? Sure, you might think of birds nests having feathers in it, but I would not have imagined that the birds pluck their own bodies to prep their nests. And what about other furry mammals, like raccoons, bears, coyotes, foxes, and skunks – do they pull out their own fur, too?
There appears to be a lot of info about pregnant bunnies pulling out their fur. Mostly from worried pet owners looking for advice. And there is info about the common mental health condition called trichotillomania, where humans and other animals pull out their own hair or fur due to stress and anxiety.
But there seems to be very little to no publicly available research about the phenomenon of pulling out ones own fur lovingly, instinctually, to prep to care for babies.
Apparently some birds will use brushed out dog or cat hair to line their nests, and some people put their pet hair brushings outside for the birds to use. (I never would have thought of that.)
If I come across more insight about it, I’ll share the info with you.
It was many weeks before I met Mimi’s babies, and then realized who is hers. The only way I can tell is that they romp around together and with her. All of the other squirrels are wary of each other and can be aggressive toward each other.
But Mimi and her babies – Baby Grey, Baby Brin, and the most recent one who I discovered is a sibling, Greysie – will tumble around with each other affectionately and playfully.