Photo du Jour: A “Stunt Squirrel” Takes on a Croatian Forest

A red squirrel pauses after doing some death-defying moves in the evergreen treetops of Makarska, Croatia. This “stunt squirrel” — with impressive nails and fabulously furry ears, I might add — lives on the Sveti Petar Peninsula, a forested area that overlooks the Adriatic Sea.

When I took this picture earlier this year, I was amazed by how unafraid this fluffy guy was. Clearly, this super squirrel knew there was no way I’d be able to catch him. So he paused near me for a few seconds, allowing me to capture him on film. Then, he was on his merry way. I watched as he leapt from tree to tree. Eventually, I couldn’t see him anymore, but I could still hear his claws digging into the tree trunks and branches.

In some parts of Europe, the Eurasian red squirrel (sciurus vulgaris) is in decline due to the introduction of its invasive cousin from across the Atlantic, the Eastern grey squirrel. The Eastern grey carries squirrelpox, a virus that can kill the red squirrels. The grey species also competes with the red squirrels for food and shelter.

Enter the European pine marten, a weasel-like creature that appears to be an ally of sorts in the red’s struggle against the grey squirrels. Some think that since red squirrels and predatory pine martens evolved together, the reds may have developed escape mechanisms that the greys did not.

Interestingly enough, the Croatian currency (kuna) gets its name from the European pine marten, or kuna. During medieval times, these animals’ valuable pelts were traded and treated like currency. Today, the animal is even featured on some of Croatia’s kuna coins.

Car owners in Germany go to great lengths to protect their vehicles against pine martens. Why? Because these creatures are known to have an appetite for spark plug wires and other engine parts. They cause millions of euros in damage to cars in Germany every year.

However, the pine martens have a redeeming quality in that they seem to protect the reds from the greys. Of course, the grey squirrels may disagree with that assessment.

You can learn more about the two species of squirrel in the 2-minute video below.

And, if you come to enchanting Makarska, be on the lookout for the stunt-squirrels of Sveti Petar Peninsula.

Where in the World?

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

16 thoughts on “Photo du Jour: A “Stunt Squirrel” Takes on a Croatian Forest

  1. A great article on squirrels and the pine martin. Dot loves to chase the squirrels in the park by our home here in Spain. They are the little black ones. I hope you are doing OK in these days of the pandemic. We are fine here in Spain as it is a quiet area and no vacationers are allowed in.

    1. Darlene, it’s good to hear from you! I’m glad to know you’re doing well and that your community has restricted movement for holiday-makers. Here in Croatia, intercity travel is also heavily restricted. Fortunately, we are doing fine and so are our parents.

      Are you able to get out for walks with Dot these days? If not, I suspect that with the absence of dogs, your local squirrels are enjoying ruling the roost. ;)

      1. We are allowed to take our dog for walks. So she has been having fun chasing the squirrels in the park. She does miss the beach though as they are off-limits.Stay safe!

  2. What a great photo! His stand up ears give him a funny “yikes” appearance. Interesting video also, particularly about how the pine martens and reds could be interdependent. It’s always fascinating to learn how animals help each other. I sent this to my friend who had planned a trip to Croatia that I’m sure has been cancelled. She will probably be interested in checking out your past blogs also. Thanks!

    1. Marilyn, I can’t resist smiling whenever I see those fabulous ears — it seems like a can of hair spray was necessary to achieve that look. :)

      I’m sorry to hear that your friend’s trip to Croatia was likely cancelled. Here’s hoping that she’ll make it this way once this chapter is finished.

      We’re certainly looking forward to dirtying our trekking poles and going hiking once again. When we get the all-clear, we’ll be on the lookout for these funny squirrels.

      I hope the spring weather has made its way to Alaska. Or, perhaps you like the cozy feel of being surrounded by snowy vistas? Either way, enjoy the rest of your weekend!

    1. Hi Cornelia,

      Is “Marder” what you remember the pine martens being called? A few years ago, Shawn and I saw this creature walking along the river in Oberammergau. We only caught a quick glimpse, as the animal darted off.

      When I lived in Germany, Marders always seemed like legendary creatures; I found it hard to believe that they could inflict so much damage on cars. Now that I’ve seen their sharp teeth, I can understand why.

      If you’re curious about them, this video shows a tame Marder climbing a pine tree. No wonder they feel at home in the evergreen forests of Germany.

      I hope you’re well and enjoying these beautiful spring weeks, Cornelia. Certainly, it’s an unusual time for the world.

    1. Carol, I didn’t know that Australia doesn’t have squirrels. Though they were abundant in my hometown in Illinois (USA), I’m still in awe of their ability to leap. I look forward to getting to Australia someday and seeing your unique fauna.

      Hope you’re doing well, despite these being unusual times.

  3. How cute the marten of the movie… until the end I believed it was a savage, I said to myself “wow what courage this guy, but isn’t afraid that he will bite him?” Then he confessed that it is an animal kept in captivity and accustomed to humans.
    Sure, a whole lot of difference from a domestic cat!
    Here in our area, we have black squirrels (I think they are “Sciurus Vulgaris” from the images on the web), during a trip to Arosa we fed them, they are used to getting close to humans.
    It was a nice experience!
    Hugs and love, stay in good health!!!

    1. Claudine, given the pine marten’s razor-sharp teeth, I was also amazed that the host seemed unafraid. Do you know if pine martens live in Ticino? If so, do they have a reputation for devouring car parts?

      We miss you all and hope you’re doing well! Sending hugs from Croatia to Switzerland. :)

      1. Ah, dear Tricia, here in Ticino we have martens (and even weasels) but I think they are the first to eat certain cables in the car engine!
        If you leave it outside, you notice the signs of their paws (different from those of a cat), especially on the front glass of the car.
        We have never had problems, but we know that several people have had them… and they put pet bottles full of water to keep both cats and martens away.
        For now, all OK. We are all healthy.
        We spent a week of holidays closed in the house-garden, with a lot of work to do… both inside and out, so time flew by.
        For Emanuele Giosuè, the practice continues well, we cross our fingers, so far all without swallowing.
        He has yet to work at Covid-19 EOC Locarno until 31.5.2020. We are certainly a little nervous, but I am sure that everything will be fine…
        Come on, let’s think positive! Soon you can come back to visit us in Ticino… Affectionate kisses to both claudine and family :-)c

  4. Dear Tricia, This sweet creature simply made me smile. And think of a really bad hair day. I hope all is well with you and you are staying safe. XXXX Virginia

    1. Hi Virginia, glad that this fellow with tousled hair could bring a smile to your face. I think we all need more things to smile about these days. :)

      Indeed, we are doing well and staying safe. In fact, we’re just a short walk from the peninsula where this silly squirrel lives. We haven’t been to the squirrel’s forested home for weeks, but I imagine this guy is thriving with less humans around.

      Hugs to you!

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