25th Apr 2022, by Victoria Chanin
It’s that time of year again when we receive a lot of worried enquiries about red squirrels with bald patches from the public, concerned that the squirrels are either sick or injured. As you can see from the image below, they can look very ragged, and some squirrels have large areas of bald skin!
The good news is that if it is running about happily, it is likely that it is simply shedding its winter coat, or moulting. In fact red squirrels have two moults a year, in the spring and the autumn.
Starting at the head and working its way down the body to the base of the tail, the moult can take up to six weeks to complete, and in the autumn the whole process begins again in the opposite direction, from the base of the tail and moving up towards the head.
The glorious fluffy tail and ear tips only moult once a year. The tail begins its moult in June and can take until September to complete. We often get sent photographs of squirrels with one side of its tail looking rather bald and unsightly. The ear tips start to thin out slowly from January, reappearing in September in time for the autumn frosts.
It seems a little precipitous to start moulting at a time of year in Scotland when you can still get hard frosts and heavy snows, and we can only theorise why they moult so early. Dr Mel Tonkin, formerly Project Manager of SSRS was studying wild red squirrels in the 1980’s and didn’t see any evidence of moulting this early. Is it an effect of climate ...