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.