When Emma Jane Vignola looks at squirrels, she sees more than just the cuddly critters, whose antics generate massive viewership numbers on social media platforms.
For Vignola, squirrels are animals of mystery with familiar but surprising traits.
“You think you know everything about a squirrel, but there are actually some pretty interesting facts,” said Vignola, who is a park naturalist with the Capital Regional District (CRD). “They are not as simple as they seem.”
Here is one such fact that Vignola teases. “Squirrels have similar nutritional needs that we do, but they don’t have access to a grocery store,” she said. “So they need to get everything from the forest. Squirrels actually need large predators in the forest like cougars, to meet all their dietary needs. And not necessarily [in the form of] food.”
While readers are encouraged to draw their own conclusions, those who want to learn more about this and other facts can join Vignola on Sunday between 10 a.m. and 11:30 for a Going Squirrelly Guided Walk at Francis/King Regional Park in Saanich.
“This is a really special place, because it is a really great example of coastal Douglas Fir ecosystem,” she said. “So we wanted to teach people about squirrels because it is a real great way for them to connect to the park, to the forest, and learn more about the animals that live there.”
The area is actually home to two species of squirrels: the Eastern Grey Squirrel, a transplant from eastern Canada, and the local Red Squirrel.
Not only do they differ in size, with the Grey Squirrel larger, but also in behaviour, she said.
“The Grey Squirrels are a lot less shy,” said Vignola. “The Red Squirrels are a lot more cautious.”
The eastern variety, in other words, is more comfortable around humans, a characteristic common among animals that humans have introduced into unfamiliar ecosystems.
Squirrels, contrary to popular perception, also do not hibernate. “We will probably see squirrels on the program — hopefully,” she said.
Should participants spot one, they will see an athletic, even charismatic animal, that is an integral part of the local ecosystem. Anyone interested in the walk should bring sturdy shoes and dress for the weather, while leaving their pets at home.