Variegated squirrels (Sciurus variegatoides) are found in North and Central America, from southern Chiapas, Mexico to Central Panama.
Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )
Sciurus variegatoides is a large, long-tailed species of tree squirrel. Its pelage is shiny and bristly. The fourteen different subspecies exhibit a wide range of color and color pattern. Dorsally, the color ranges from blackish to reddish brown to yellowish-gray to white. On the underside, the color ranges from white to cinnamon-buff. The feet and sides of the body are pale gray or yellowish; the ears have a pale patch of fur on the outside. Different subspecies may have a combination of dorsal and lateral stripes and forehead patches or may be completely grizzled in coloration. The guard hairs on the back and sides are agouti, and are made up of several different color bands. The underside is not usually banded. The tail is bushy and long and has black hairs tipped in white on its dorsal side. The underside of the tail is usually lighter in color.
There is little seasonal change in the coat of S. variegatoides. It has no melanistic phase. Molts begin in April or May, and the new pelage is in by September and October. There is considerable variation in time of molt, with individuals in molt occurring every month of the year. An individual may only molt once a year. The darkest subspecies are found in the areas with the greatest rainfall, along the Caribbean coast (S. v. belti, S. v. managuensis, S. v. artrirufus, and S. v. thomasi). Lighter subspecies are found along the Pacific side of Central America (S .v. bangsi, S. v. dorsalis, S. v. goldmani, and S. v. helveolus).
The dental formula for variegated squirrels is I 1/1, C 0/0, P 2/1, M 3/3, total 22. There is no size difference between males and females, although there is considerable variation among individuals of the same subspecies in the same location. Head and body length varies from 220 to 337 mm. Tail length varies from 226 to 325 mm. Length of the hind foot is from 45 to 70 mm. Length of the ear is 20 to 35 mm. Variegated squirrels weigh from 428 to 909 g. Measurements of bacula are as follows: length is 12.1 mm, length of tip is 2.6 mm, height of tip is 3.0 mm, height of base is 3.0 mm, and width of base is 2.4 mm. Measurements of baubella are as follows: length is 3.9 mm and width of disc is 2.0 mm. Females have eight mammae; one pair pectoral, two pair abdominal, and one pair inguinal.
Variegated squirrels are similar to many other tree squirrel species. There are some distinguishing characteristics however. The red-tailed squirrels have an orange tail, are smaller, and occur in denser, wetter forests; Deppe's squirrels have a slender tail, gray underside and feet, and are smaller; Yucatan squirrels are gray and smaller; Mexican gray squirrels lack the prominent pale ear patches.
Range mass: 428 to 909 g.
Range length: 220 to 337 mm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike
Sciurus variegatoides occupies both dry and wet tropical forests, but prefers open, arid environments. It is found in deciduous, semi-deciduous, and, at times, evergreen forest. It is frequently found in open woodland, scrubland, and plantations. It lives at elevations ranging from sea level to 2500 m.
Range elevation: 0 to 2500 m.
Habitat Regions: tropical
Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest
Other Habitat Features: agricultural
Habitat and Ecology
Like other large squirrels, this species is diurnal. It is mainly arboreal and crosses open areas by traveling along fencerows or low trees. This species dens in tree holes and constructs leaf nests on branches. The diet consists of soft fruits including mangos, guavas, hog plums (Spondias mombin), and guacimo (Guazuma ulmifolia) (Reid 1997). Low chucks and harsh chatters are occasionally given (Reid 1997).
Sciurus variegatoides consumes nuts and fruits of various kinds, including hard-shelled and soft, thin-shelled seeds of fruits such as Scheelea rostrata, Scheelea zonensis, Crescentia alata, Guazuma ulmifolia, Quercus oleoides, Sterculia apetala, Mangiferea indica, Spondias mombin, Bursera simaruba, Ochroma pyramidale, Cochlospermum vitifolium, Enterolobium cyclocarpum, Cecropia, Ficus insipida, Astrcarum standleyanum, Scheelea zonensis, Genipa americana, Apeiba tibourbou, Luehea speciosa, and Trema micrantha. It spends most of its time foraging for soft, juicy fruits. It also eat some vines, flowers, and fungi.
Plant Foods: seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit; flowers
Other Foods: fungus
Primary Diet: herbivore (Frugivore , Granivore )
Sciurus variegatoides serves an important role in seed dispersal via the fruit it consumes. Ectoparasites of variegated squirrels include chiggers and lice. No endoparasites are known.
Ectoparasites of tree squirrels (genus Sciurus) include Acari, Anoplura, Siphonaptera, and Diptera. Endoparasites include Protozoa, Cestodes, and Nematodes.
Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds
The predators of S. variegatoides are generally opportunistic. The following information is in regards to the genus Sciurus: Predators of adult tree squirrels include weasels (Mustela), martens (Martes), wildcats (Felidae), foxes (Canidae), eagles (Accipitridae), owls (Strigiformes), and snakes (Serpentes). These predators may also feed on young, taking them directly from the nest.
- weasels (Mustela)
- martens (Martes)
- foxes (Canidae)
- wildcats (Felidae)
- eagles (Accipitridae)
- owls (Strigiformes)
- snakes (Serpentes)
Life History and Behavior
Variegated squirrels make chucking sounds when alarmed. Harsh chatter is also occasionally heard. Female tree squirrels use chemical cues to show males when they are ready to mate.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: pheromones
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
For the genus, the longest living Sciurus was 23 years in captivity and 8 to 12 years in the wild.
Status: wild: 12 (high) years.
Status: captivity: 23 (high) years.
Status: captivity: 15.1 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Little is known about the mating system of S. variegatoides, but most tree squirrels (Sciurus) are similar in their mating and reproduction. Tree squirrels are generally solitary, with individuals coming into contact only to mate. Social ranking of tree squirrels is based on weight and age. The higher ranking males will have more mates. A female tree squirrel goes into estrus once a year for the duration of one day. Through olfactory cues and behavioral changes, males know when to mate with her. More than one male may enter the territory of a female in estrus, and males may fight one another in order to mate. After mating, the male and female separate. There are no lasting pair bonds.
Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)
In Panama, breeding occurs annually for S. variegatoides between April and May. Female variegated squirrels build nests high up in the trees and have their babies there. Nest materials include twigs and leaves, and nests are usually waterproof. The average number of young per litter ranges from 2 to 8. Young born to the subspecies S. v. melania have the characteristic dark color of the adult.
In Sciurus, gestation lasts between 33-46 days. When tree squirrels are born, they are blind and naked. Their digits are fused together, and they weigh less than one ounce. After 4 days, babies are vocal, emitting squeaks in response to their mother’s stimuli. After 2 weeks, they begin to develop fur. Between 30 to 32 days babies develop teeth and open their eyes. By 4 weeks, the young are learning to groom themselves, and they leave the nest by 6 weeks. Squirrels begin to socialize at 10 weeks just after they are weaned. They are solitary by 15 weeks. Tree squirrels reach sexual maturity between 12 to 15 weeks.
Breeding interval: Sciurus variegatoides mates once a year.
Breeding season: Breeding occurs for S. variegatoides between April and May.
Range number of offspring: 2 to 8.
Average number of offspring: 6-8.
Range gestation period: 33 to 46 days.
Average weaning age: 10 weeks.
Average time to independence: 15 weeks.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 12 to 15 weeks.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 12 to 15 weeks.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous
Little is known about parental investment in the species S. variegatoides. In most members of the genus Sciurus, the father offers no parental care. The mother builds a nest for her young and they reside there until 6 weeks. The mother will cover her nest with brush, in order to protect her young, while she is scavenging for food. Young tree squirrels are weaned at 10 weeks and are independent of their mother after 15 weeks. The mother is responsible for showing the young how to scavenge for food and groom.
Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Protecting: Female); extended period of juvenile learning
There is no special conservation status for variegated squirrels. This species may be considered "fragile" in some parts of its range in Mexico.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Variegated squirrels are considered crop pests in some areas.
Negative Impacts: crop pest
Variegated squirrels are hunted by humans for sport and for meat.
Positive Impacts: food
In alphabetical order except for nominate species.
- S. v. variegatoides Ogilby, 1839
- S. v. adolphei Lesson, 1842
- S. v. atrirufus Harris, 1930
- S. v. bangsi Dickey, 1928
- S. v. belti Nelson, 1899
- S. v. boothiae Gray, 1843
- S. v. dorsalis Gray, 1849
- S. v. goldmani Nelson, 1898
- S. v. helveolus Goldman, 1912
- S. v. loweryi McPherson, 1972
- S. v. managuensis Nelson, 1898
- S. v. melania Gray, 1867
- S. v. rigidus Peters, 1863
- S. v. thomasi Nelson, 1899
- S. v. underwoodi Goldman, 1932
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|Wikispecies has information related to: Sciurus variegatoides|
- Koprowski, J., Roth, L., Reid, F., Woodman, N. & Timm, R. (2008). Sciurus variegatoides. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 6 January 2009.
- Thorington, R.W., Jr.; Hoffmann, R.S. (2005). "Sciurus (Sciurus) variegatoides". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M. Mammal Species of the World: a taxonomic and geographic reference (3rd ed.). The Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 754–818. ISBN 0-8018-8221-4. OCLC 26158608.
- Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M., eds. (2005). Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.