Squirrels living in urban areas like New York City may fare just as well - if not better - than their country counterparts, according to a new study in the Journal of Zoology.
Living in a busy metropolitan park, squirrels have learned to assess which humans pose threats, running away when approached or even looked at.
"Optimal escape theory predicts that animals should moderate their flight responses according to the level of risk represented by a potential predator. This theory should apply even when organisms are habituated to disturbance, and how animals respond to human presence is likely to determine their success exploiting urban habitats," the authors wrote.
Australian researchers monitored squirrels in a park - home to roughly 800 squirrels - near Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan's lower east side. If humans strolling along kept to the footpath, squirrels did not budge or seem to mind them. But once a passerby left the path, or worse, made eye contact, the squirrels' flight response kicked in and they fled the scene.
"For a squirrel, the city provides a habitat with fewer predators than in the woods, and food tends to be available all year around," Bill Bateman, a wildlife biologist at Australia's Curtin University, said in a press release.
This may be, but Bateman points out that traffic "remains the biggest killer for all urban wildlife." About 4,000 squirrels get hit by a car every year.
Squirrels are familiar to just about everyone. More than 200 squirrel species live all over the world, with the exception of Australia.
Tree squirrels are the most commonly recognized, seen leaping from branch to branch, perhaps in Central Park. Other species are ground squirrels that live in burrow or tunnel systems, where some hibernate during the winter season, National Geographic reported.
All squirrels are omnivores, nibbling on everything from nuts, leaves, seeds and berries to insects and caterpillars.
While probably not seen in New York City, there's also the impressive flying squirrel. Although they can't actually fly, flaps of skin connecting their limbs allow them to soar through the sky in leaps and bounds. These gliding leaps can exceed 150 feet (46 meters).
So the next time you're walking around New York, or any city for that matter, pay no mind to the cute squirrel nearby munching on an acorn.
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