All posts tagged: squirrels

Red squirrels were hosts for leprosy in medieval England

Red squirrels were hosts for leprosy in medieval England

[ad_1] Red squirrels can carry bacteria that cause leprosy Karin Greevy/Shutterstock The DNA of leprosy-causing bacteria has been found in the remains of people and a red squirrel unearthed at medieval sites in the UK. This makes red squirrels the earliest known non-human hosts of the infection and suggests it may have spread between the rodents and people at the time. In 2016, scientists found that red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) around the UK carry strains of Mycobacterium leprae, the bacterium that causes the chronic disease leprosy. Some of the strains were similar to ones that infected people in England more than 700 years ago. “So, we had an inkling that maybe medieval red squirrels have had it too,” says Sarah Inskip at the University of Leicester in the UK. To investigate further, Inskip and her colleagues examined the remains of 25 people uncovered at the site of a medieval hospital for people with leprosy in Winchester and 12 red squirrels found at a nearby site that was home to at least one fur shop between …

Medieval Pet Squirrels Had Leprosy

Medieval Pet Squirrels Had Leprosy

[ad_1] When Kathleen Walker-Meikle, a historian at the University of Basel, in Switzerland, ponders the Middle Ages, her mind tends to drift not to religious conquest or Viking raids, but to squirrels. Tawny-backed, white-bellied, tufted-eared red squirrels, to be exact. For hundreds of years, society’s elites stitched red-squirrel pelts into luxurious floor-length capes and made the animals pets, cradling them in their lap and commissioning gold collars festooned with pearls. Human lives were so intertwined with those of red squirrels that one of history’s most cursed diseases likely passed repeatedly between our species and theirs, according to new research that Walker-Meikle contributed to. Uncomfortable questions about medieval squirrels first came up about a decade ago, after another group of researchers stumbled upon three populations of red squirrels—one in Scotland, two on different English islands—with odd-looking features: swollen lips, warty noses, skin on their ears that had grown thick and crusty. A search for microbial DNA in some of those squirrels’ tissues revealed that they had leprosy. “What’s it doing in red squirrels?” John Spencer, a …

How squirrels cope with stress: New study may offer climate lessons for humans

How squirrels cope with stress: New study may offer climate lessons for humans

[ad_1] Squirrels are found nearly everywhere, and their apparently playful demeanor makes it easy not to notice that their lives can be difficult. That rambunctious behavior we observe both in city parks and in wilderness is because squirrels must spend most of their time either searching for food and — perhaps more importantly — striving not to become food themselves.  As if that weren’t enough, a recent study from the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B reveals that human activity, particularly climate change and habitat destruction, is making squirrels’ lives significantly harder. Scientists studied 1,144 wild North American red squirrels in the Canadian province of Yukon, creating a weighted early-life adversity index that analyzed six different negative events that squirrels might experience in youth and comparing that to their adult lifespans. They found that greater trauma in a squirrel’s early life predicted shorter lifespans in both males and females. In one study, this negative effect was offset by naturally occurring food booms in a squirrel’s second year of life, but subsequent experiments did not replicate that …

Early trauma can shorten a red squirrel’s lifespan

Early trauma can shorten a red squirrel’s lifespan

[ad_1] Red squirrels living in Canada’s Yukon territory can have a pretty hard knock life. Bitterly cold winters, resource scarcity, intense competition for habitat, threats from large predators like the Canada lynx, and even take big reproductive risks for their genetic fitness. All of these stressors take their toll on these resilient rodents. Their early life struggles can also leave a lasting mark. The more challenges young red squirrels face in the year they’re born, the shorter their adult lifespan. The findings are detailed in a study published April 24 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences and could have some implications for humans.  Food booms Red squirrels are about 11 inches long and weigh just over half a pound on average. They are known for their rust colored fur and “scolding chatter” above the trees. The new study uses data collected by the Kluane Red Squirrel Project, a multi-university long-term field study. The project has tracked and studied thousands of wild North American red squirrels in the southwestern region of …

Government Urged To Boost Support For Killing “Menace” Grey Squirrels

Government Urged To Boost Support For Killing “Menace” Grey Squirrels

[ad_1] Grey squirrels are regarded as invasive pests in the UK (Alamy) 5 min read10 April A group of Tory MPs are calling on the government to increase the grants provided to landowners to trap and cull grey squirrels, and further support other methods of squirrel population control to protect the “precious” native red squirrel. Conservative MPs Virginia Crosbie and Andrew Selous, who are members of the Conservative Environment Network (CEN), have called on the government to take “bold” action to reduce grey squirrel populations across the UK.  Crosbie, who is MP for Ynys Môn – which includes the Isles of Anglesey where there is a sizeable red squirrel population – said the government should provide further support for people to trap and cull greys. “It is only right that we do everything we can to protect native species in the UK. This means controlling and reducing the menace grey squirrel population to allow red squirrels to thrive,” she said. “As an Honorary Member of the Red Squirrel Trust Wales, I …

The Radio Squirrels of Point Reyes

The Radio Squirrels of Point Reyes

[ad_1] “Calling all. This is our last cry before our eternal silence.” With that, in January 1997, the French coast guard transmitted its final message in Morse code. Ships in distress had radioed out dits and dahs from the era of the Titanic to the era of Titanic. In near-instant time, the beeps could be deciphered by Morse-code stations thousands of miles away. First used to send messages over land in 1844, Morse code outlived the telegraph age by becoming the lingua franca of the sea. But by the late 20th century, satellite radio was turning it into a dying language. In February 1999, it officially ceased being the standard for maritime communication. Nestled within the Point Reyes National Seashore, north of San Francisco, KPH Maritime Radio is the last operational Morse-code radio station in North America. The station—which consists of two buildings some 25 miles apart—once watched over the waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Both KPH sites shut down in 1997, but a few years later, a couple of radio enthusiasts brought …

Gut bacteria may explain why grey squirrels outcompete reds – new research

Gut bacteria may explain why grey squirrels outcompete reds – new research

[ad_1] Across large parts of the UK, the native red squirrel has been replaced by the grey squirrel, a North American species. As well as endangering reds, grey squirrels pose a threat to our woodlands because of the damage they cause to trees. New research from my colleagues and I compared the gut bacteria of red and grey squirrels. We found that differences between the two may explain their competition and red squirrel decline, as well as why grey squirrels are so destructive to woodland. Grey squirrels were introduced to the UK between 1876 and 1929 and have displaced reds in most areas of the UK. Greys carry a virus called “squirrelpox”, which doesn’t affect them but leads to sickness and often death in red squirrels. Grey squirrels are bigger than red squirrels and compete with them for food and habitat. Acorns, a widespread food source, contain tannins, which are hard for red squirrels to digest. But greys can digest acorns easily, giving them an extra edge in competing for resources. Grey squirrels frequently strip …

Grey squirrels ‘outcompete reds due to their gut bacteria’ | UK News

Grey squirrels ‘outcompete reds due to their gut bacteria’ | UK News

[ad_1] The reason grey squirrels outcompete the red version of the rodents may lie in their gut bacteria, scientists believe. Grey squirrels are an invasive species that was introduced to the UK and Ireland in the late 19th century from North America. They out-compete the native reds for food and space and carry a disease, called squirrel pox, which kills reds but has no known lasting effect on greys. Grey squirrels also pose a threat to the sustainable management of woodlands because of the damage they cause to trees by bark stripping, a behaviour that was not fully understood by experts. Now an analysis of the gut microbiome – the ecosystem of microbes that live in intestines – of both red and grey squirrels has revealed the latter to have more diverse gut bacteria. The researchers used DNA sequencing methods to identify the different types of bacteria in the guts of both red and grey squirrels. The team found a particular type of microbe in the digestive systems of grey squirrels that helps break down …