Few things announce the changing of the season like chubby Montreal squirrels. These adorable, healthy, spherical balls of fur never fail to amuse even the most hardened, winter-weary Montrealer.
Stalked by gangs of fascinated, camera-ready European tourists (in normal years), the critters — and their bold attempts to capture our fallen crumbs — are an integral part of the city's fall landscape.
But to many Montrealers, the life of a squirrel is still a mystery.
Some might be surprised to learn, for example, that they don't actually hibernate.
"They're still around! They're not hibernating like a bear or a gopher would," Montreal Ecomuseum zoologist Elizabeth Landry told MTL Blog.
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"I think the main reason we think they hibernate is that usually in the summer months, they're out and about in the early morning and late afternoon."
"Whereas in the winter they're going to try to benefit from that peak sun at noon-ish — and at that point, most of us are indoors so we don't see them as much," she said.
But it's in the weeks before the brutal winter that we see them approach their peak weight.
By spring, Landry explained, they lose up to 30% of their body weight.
"From spring to winter, they're packing that mass back on."
We spoke to Landry about the squirrels of Montreal, shown here in a series of MTL Blog reader submissions, which we took the liberty of arranging in a ~ very scientific ~ ranking from "chonk" to "absolute unit."
Questions and responses have been edited for clarity.
What kinds of squirrels do we see in Montreal?
Our province is home to a number of squirrel species.
"We typically see what we call a grey squirrel. That's that big chubby, beautiful, silvery squirrel," said Landry.
Those somewhat rare black squirrels are actually the same species. "It's just a different colouration."
12. A very shapely boy.kevinandamanda | Instagram
11. "Tony the squirrel" — @_thanerd__thanerd_ | Instagram
10. 7/10 chonks3d_rox | Instagram
"If you go a little bit into the suburbs where there are more pine trees, more mixed forests, you'll see red squirrels."
Landry described these suburb-dwellers as "really, really feisty."
"We usually hear them screeching and screaming and it's almost like they're small but mighty and trying to show off."
There are also flying squirrels, but we see them less often since they come out at night.
Why don't we see dead squirrels all the time?
Landry's "hypothetical answer" is that "someone else is picking up the leftovers."
"There are animals that are scavengers that are just waiting for animals to die of natural causes — or not so natural causes."
9. Hates Halloween. Can eat his weight in pumpkins.sweetjade74 | Instagram
8. Wondering where she buried her stash.maheshgoteti | Instagram
7. Widdle cheeks, widdle arms, BIG motivation to find food.noemie_kite | Instagram
Squirrels also take their dead compatriots as a warning sign.
"They're very social animals. They often stick together."
"Often if a squirrel finds a dead squirrel, they'll hightail it out of there."
What do squirrels eat?
Anyone who's ever seen happy squirrels rummaging through a trash can or circling innocent picnickers can guess that the answer is just about anything.
"These guys are surprisingly omnivorous," said Landry.
"Depending on what their body needs, they can pretty much eat whatever they can get their hands on."
That includes meat.
6. Double chonk.lhavlhie | Instagram
5. Waiting for you at the grill.3mrams | Instagram
4. A very healthy ball of squirrel.cristinaloren90 | Instagram
"In the spring when they come across an egg, they can eat the egg — or even the little tiny birdies."
"Often it's because something is really lacking. So they'll have like a deficiency in calcium or some kind of nutrient that will push them to become more carnivorous."
"Other than that they're eating pine cones. They're eating seeds. And that's what they're stashing away all summer long."
And as to whether Montrealers should be giving in to wide-eyed squirrels begging for table scraps, Landry suggested it's best to avoid the temptation.
3. Simply adorable.akshmaan | Instagram
2. So. Fluffy.akhilkrishnans | Instagram
1. WINNER. Absolute unit.nana_wn72 | Instagram
"As a general rule, I would say don't feed any animal."
"Animals being afraid of humans is a good thing. Humans are typically not a good thing for animals."
"They don't need us. And you never want them to get to used to us."