Texas is home to sixty-four different types of native rodents. This varying group of mammals is the most diverse in the state and each species offers its own benefits to Texas’ unique and delicate ecosystem. Read below to learn more about some of the rodents you will find living here in Texas.
The Eastern Fox Squirrel
The Eastern Fox Squirrel is the most common squirrel in Texas. These squirrels are found in open forests that contain both oak and nut trees. They are found in the highest numbers within the eastern third of Texas where there is approximately one squirrel for every two or three acres. The Eastern Fox Squirrel is a large squirrel weighing approximately two pounds and measuring about twenty inches from the end of its tail to the tip of its nose. Their bodies are brown or grey in color with reddish-yellow bellies. The tails of these squirrels appear to be reddish-black in color and generally measure less than half of the squirrel’s total body length.
As you often imagine, the Eastern Fox Squirrel’s diet will mostly consist of acorns in the fall and winter months. During the spring and summer months, these squirrels will also dine on fruits, seeds, insects, buds, mushrooms and green shoots. The Eastern Fox Squirrel is usually most active in the early morning hours and in the late afternoon. They will build their nests in tree holes or out of twigs and leaves in the branches of trees. These squirrels typically have two breeding seasons and two litters every year. Breeding season for the Eastern Fox Squirrel will peak in January or February and again in May and June. With each litter, these squirrels will produce three to four young. These newborn squirrels are naked and blind and will remain in the nest for seven to eight weeks. The average lifespan of the The Eastern Fox Squirrel is approximately fifteen years.
The Eastern Gray Squirrel
The Eastern Gray Squirrel is similar to the Eastern Fox Squirrel in a few ways. However, these two species do differ in how social they are with one another, as it is more likely that the Eastern Gray Squirrel will be found in groups. These squirrels are smaller in size, measuring approximately seventeen inches from the tip of their tail to the tip of their nose. Each squirrel weighs about one pound and is fast, agile and nervous. These traits have earned the Eastern Gray Squirrel the nickname “cat squirrel”. They will spend their time nervously scanning their surroundings and hopping from tree limb to tree limb at the slightest movement or noise.
This particular type of squirrel has large eyes that are positioned on the side of its head which allows the squirrel a better range of vision while it is out in the wild. This is helpful for the squirrel’s survival, as it can easily spot a predator from above or below. Unlike the Eastern Fox Squirrel, these squirrels generally prefer to live in swamp like areas or at the bottom of dense forests where trees are abundant. It is not likely that you will find an Eastern Gray Squirrel frolicking about in the more open forests preferred by the Eastern Fox Squirrel. Breeding season for the Eastern Gray Squirrel peaks between July and September and again in December through February. When there is no suitable tree hole available, the Eastern Gray Squirrel will build its nest from leaves where it will birth its litter of blind and naked babies. These newborn squirrels will stay in the nest for approximately six weeks and in a group with their families for about a month before they begin foraging for themselves as independent squirrels. The Eastern Gray Squirrel will reach full maturity at approximately six months of age. At this time, they will have grown to their full adult size. About six months later at one year old, these squirrels can begin to produce young of their own.
The Southern Flying Squirrel
The Southern Flying Squirrel is most common in the eastern areas of Texas, however it is not generally seen by humans during the day hours because this little squirrel is nocturnal. This may benefit the Southern Flying Squirrel’s survival, as this type of squirrel is very skittish and easily frightened. In fact, if frightened enough, these squirrels may become paralyzed with fear and die of shock. This is a good reason to not approach a flying squirrel if you ever observe one in the wild. Despite its name, the Southern Flying Squirrel does not actually fly. Instead, it glides from tree branch to tree branch which gives the appearance of flying. Gliding is the Southern Flying Squirrel’s primary means of transportation. In one single glide, these squirrels can cover up to 150 feet.
With a body that weighs only three ounces and that is only eight to ten inches long, the Southern Flying Squirrel is built for effortlessly gliding through the air. The tails of these squirrels is at least half of its total body length and sometimes even more. As they are gliding through the air, the Southern Flying Squirrel’s tail will guide it, acting as a sort of rudder. The skin of these squirrels is another unique feature, as it is about one hundred square inches and forms flaps that stretch from its ankles to its wrists. These flaps are what give the Southern Flying Squirrel the ability to glide from tree to tree. Their large eyes help the squirrel to see any possible obstacles in its path, while its flat tail helps it to slow down before landing from the air. Immediately upon landing, the Southern Flying Squirrel will quickly run to the opposite side of the tree so to avoid any predators, including owls or raccoons, that might have seen its flight.
The diet of the Southern Flying Squirrel consists of nuts, berries, tender buds, moths, insects and grasshoppers. It is rare that these squirrels will snack on green vegetation. Because the Southern Flying Squirrel is so small in size, it will often use a woodpecker’s nest as a den. If there are no woodpecker nests available, these squirrels will build a small nest out of leaves and twigs. Peak breeding season for the Southern Flying Squirrel is from May to March, with litters consisting of three to six baby squirrels. Newborn Southern Flying Squirrels are no larger than a quarter in size and weigh only half of an ounce. After a few weeks in the nest, the baby squirrels will begin flight training and a short time later will start to glide from tree branch to tree branch independently. As with the the Eastern Gray Squirrel, the Southern Flying Squirrel reaches full maturity after about one year when it is then ready to begin producing its own young.
Mice and Rats
When you think of a mouse scurrying along your baseboards or inside of your walls, it is most likely that the image you create in your mind is of the house mouse. Adult house mice are the type of mice we typically visualize when we think of the mice that might live among us in our homes. These mice have large ears, small eyes and a pointed nose. The house mouse’s fur is light grey or brown, but can sometimes appear to be darker in color. House mice are omnivorous and prefer to feed on seeds, fruits and grains, but will consume almost any food source that is available to them. Although they are not picky eaters, house mice do prefer to eat foods that are higher in carbohydrates. They also like to dine on sweets, including chocolate.
These furry little creatures are known to dig inside of your garbage cans to find these types of food scraps. As you might suspect, house mice favor spending their time inside of a structure, including in secluded corners, cluttered garages, under cabinets, at the bases of kitchen appliances, the base of water heaters, storage boxes in closets and other small, dim and quiet spaces. If the conditions of their environment are ideal, including the presence of ample food and water, house mice are able to reproduce at rapid rates. For these reasons, it is important to keep the garbage can in your kitchen or garage sealed tightly.
Deer mice and house mice have similar living habits, but differ slightly in appearance. The deer mouse has dark fur on its back and lighter fur on its legs and belly. They have slender bodies, pointed noses and round, black beady eyes. Unlike the house mouse, the tail of the deer mouse is short and fuzzy. Deer mice are generally three to four inches in length and like house mice, are omnivorous. These mice will enjoy meals consisting of plants, insects, seeds, nuts, animal matter, fruits and various other plant products. When living on their own in the wild, deer mice will not usually live past one year of age. However, in captivity, the deer mouse can live for up to eight years. Similar to the house mouse and many other rodents, the deer mouse will also forage through your garbage cans in search of food. They will usually do this before the colder months as a way to stock up on food through the winter time. In their natural outdoor habitats, deer mice can be found in tree holes or hollow logs and under piles of rocks. When deer mice make their homes indoors, they will find small, warm and dimly lit areas to live in. Inside of your home, these spaces can include crawl spaces, basements or attics.
Norway rats have classic rat features including brown, grey or red shaggy fur, small ears and long tails that are covered in scales with hefty bodies and rounded noses. These rodents are particularly large, measuring up to eighteen inches, including the length of their tails. Similar to the house mouse, Norway rats will choose to eat foods that are high in carbohydrates and protein content. As for their preferred living conditions, Norway rats will usually live in tunnels under the ground, but will also make homes in buildings and other enclosed structures like your home. Similar to other rodents, the Norway rat tends to make its nest in small and undisturbed places including crawl spaces, attics or ceilings.
Also known as ship rats or sewer rats, roof rats are another type of rat that is commonly found here in the great state of Texas. These rats will measure up to sixteen inches in length and have brown and black fur with an underside that is white or black. Roof rats are narrow and thin in shape with large eyes and ears. Their tails are long, thin and have scales. Roof rats are omnivores and are not particular about the type of food sources they will eat. However, the preferred meal of a roof rat will consist of seeds, fruits, nuts and berries. Roof rats will dine on different types of insects, slugs and snails. They will also enjoy the occasional fish or other aquatic creatures if they find themselves near a body of water. Roof rats are great climbers and will usually make their nests or find shelter in upper areas of a structure, such as the roof or attic. These rats will also live within enclosed spaces on the ground, including under piles of wood and debris.
While squirrels, mice and rats might be the most commonly spotted rodents in Texas, there are many other species of rodents that call the Lone Star State home. Porcupines, beavers, chipmunks, prairie dogs and gophers also roam the Texas landscape. Spreading seeds, aerating the soil, distributing fungi and acting as a source of food for larger predators are just a few ways that each of these rodents, including squirrels, mice and rats, play a vital role in maintaining the balance of Texas’ ecosystem.