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Compassionate Mama Squirrels

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Compassionate Mama Squirrels

By Jeremy Mercer, Ode Magazine

In the most recent example of animal compassion, a study published earlier this month by Nature Communications shows that orphaned baby squirrels are sometimes adopted by other squirrel moms.

Researchers from the University of Alberta have been monitoring the red squirrel population in the Kulane National Park in northern Canada for more than 20 years, but it was only recently that the doctoral student Jamie Gorrell discovered a curious phenomenon. While making his regular checks on squirrel nests, Gorrell found one nest had an extra pup in it. At first, he assumed he had erred in his earlier count, but then he realized the extra pup was older than the rest of the litter. Furthermore, this pup’s eyes were still shut and its muscles undeveloped, meaning it couldn’t have simply wandered over by itself. So what happened?

It turns out the mother of the mysterious extra pup had been eaten by a predator – perhaps a hawk or an owl – and a neighbouring squirrel noticed the nest had fallen silent. This squirrel went over to investigate, found orphaned pups, and brought one back to her own nest to raise as her own. Going back through their records, the researchers determined there had been similar adoptions over the years and the key was that the two mothers were always related, perhaps sisters or cousins.

“Natural selection is about promoting your own genes, passing on your genetic lineage, so a female adopting a relative helps pass on her own genes, the genes she has in common with that juvenile,” Gorrell says.

Image Credit: Ryan W. Taylor

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Megan, selected from The Intelligent Optimist

Ode, the magazine for Intelligent Optimists, is an international independent journal that publishes positive news, about the people and ideas that are changing our world for the better.


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5:53AM PDT on Jul 20, 2013

beautiful,thank you for sharing 20/7

6:30PM PDT on Jul 15, 2013

Good to know & very cute :) Thanks for sharing.

2:11PM PDT on Apr 5, 2013

This is so sweet!!

10:57AM PDT on Mar 31, 2013

Thanks for the information.

7:41AM PST on Feb 1, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

2:39PM PDT on Nov 3, 2012

Beautiful story of what happens when Compassion Rules the Heart! We have a lot to Learn from Animals & Children... if we'd just Listen. Thanks. Truly Great Story!

3:06PM PDT on Sep 20, 2012


3:05PM PDT on Sep 20, 2012


10:11AM PDT on Jul 22, 2012

I believe the mama squirrels are just compassionate and "selfish". Thanks for the story.

8:32PM PDT on Apr 30, 2012

This shows that Animal Angels don't have to have 2 legs.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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