This morning I sat on the back patio and watched the gray squirrels run around the backyard. It’s something I bet hundreds, if not thousands, of people do every day in North Carolina.
Eastern gray squirrels, or Sciurus carolinensis, are the most common of the five squirrel species that call the Old North State home. They live in each of our 100 counties. The adorable rodents are so beloved that the North Carolina General Assembly named them our Official State Mammal in 1969.
Of course, their cuteness isn’t the only reason squirrels became our state mammal. The fluffy rodents are historically significant in this area. First described in 1788 by the German naturalist Johann Friedrich Gmelin, squirrels were a much-needed food and fur source for American colonists.
There’s even evidence suggesting the small animals helped us win the Revolution. Some early chronicles indicate the marksmanship necessary for squirrel hunting was crucial training for the soldiers who fought in the American Revolution and War of 1812.
Though they are no longer an essential food source, squirrel hunting is still prevalent in North Carolina. A few weeks ago, one of Brandon’s friends talked about going squirrel hunting. It made me think about my daddy. Daddy squirrel hunted in the mountains when I was little, and we ate what he brought home. He preserved the pelts and tails in salt.
I haven’t eaten squirrel since I was little. These days, I’m more likely to feed them than to eat them. We have an army of them on our little culdesac. Every morning, they chase each other up and down our pecan tree. And of the evening, they can be heard chattering to one another from their nests in the treetops.
During the winter, I toss raw unsalted peanuts out on the patio for them. It’s just my little way of giving a nod to the creatures that so inconspicuously impacted life in North Carolina.