Red Squirrel and Gray Squirrel
Peter Rabbit, on his way to learn more from Mother Nature, was trying to make up his mind about which of his neighbors he would ask to join him. He had learned so many surprising things about his own family that he shrewdly suspected many equally surprising things were to be learned about his neighbors. However, there were so many neighbors he couldn’t decide which one to ask first.
Alas, that matter was settled for him, and in a funny way. Hardly had he reached the edge of the Green Forest when he was hailed by a voice. “Hello, Peter Rabbit!” said this voice. “Where are you bound at this hour of the morning? Usually you are heading for home in the dear Old Briar-patch.”
Peter knew that voice the instant he heard it. It was the voice of Happy Jack the Gray Squirrel. Happy Jack was seated on the top of an old stump, eating a nut. “I’m going to learn,” replied Peter with a great excitement.
“Going to learn, you say?” Happy Jack. “Oh please do tell me who you are going to learn with and what you will be learning.”
“I’m going to learn with Mother Nature,” replied Peter. “I’ve been going for several days, and so has my cousin, Jumper the Hare. We’ve learned a lot about our own family and now we are going to learn about the other little people of the Green Forest and the Green Meadows.”
“Really?!” exclaimed Happy Jack. “I do think I know allot about my own family although I guess I never really considered knowing about my neighbors too.”
“Is that so?” asked Peter. “I’m curious to know if you actually do know all your own cousins. I thought I knew all of mine and discovered I didn’t.”
“What are you fellows talking about?” asked another voice. Chatterer the Red Squirrel jumped from one tree to another just above Peter’s head.
“Peter is getting me curious about how much I may not know about our own family” said Happy Jack in a pondering sort of way. “He is on his way to learn with Mother Nature and has advised me to join him.”
“I think it would be fun to go learn for a while , especially about the Squirrel family” Chatterer the Red Squirrel eagerly chimed in. “What do you say, Peter, may I go along with you?”
Peter said that he thought it would be a very fine thing and that Chatterer would not regret it. Chatterer winked at his cousin, Happy Jack, and followed Peter. Chatterer kept up in the trees while Peter was hopping lipperty-lipperty-lip on the ground. Happy Jack hesitated a minute and then, curiosity becoming too much for him, hastened to join the others too.
“Hello!” exclaimed Old Mother Nature, as Happy Jack and Chatterer appeared with Peter Rabbit. “What are you frisky folks doing over here?”
Happy Jack and Chatterer appeared to have lost their tongues, something very unusual for them, especially for Chatterer. The fact is, in the presence of Mother Nature they felt bashful. Peter replied for them. “They’ve decided to come learn too,” he said. “Happy Jack says he feels like knows all about his own family and he has come along to find out if he really does.”
“It won’t take us long to find out,” said Mother Nature softly and her eyes twinkled with amusement. “How many cousins have you, Happy Jack?”
Happy Jack thought for a moment. “Three,” he replied in an unsure way. Peter chuckled to himself as he knew that doubt was already beginning to grow in Happy Jack’s mind.
“Can you name them?” Mother Nature promptly asked.
“Chatterer the Red Squirrel, Timmy the Flying Squirrel, and Striped Chipmunk,” replied Happy Jack.
“He’s forgotten Rusty the Fox Squirrel,” Chatterer inserted, dancing about gleefully.
Happy Jack looked crestfallen and gave Chatterer an angry look.
“That’s right, Chatterer,” said Mother Nature. “Rusty is a very important member of the Squirrel family. Now suppose you name the others.”
“Wha–wha–what others?” stammered Chatterer. “I don’t know of any others.”
Peter Rabbit hugged himself with glee as he watched the faces of Happy Jack and Chatterer. “They don’t know any more about their family than we did about ours,” he whispered in one of the long ears of Jumper the Hare.
As for Mother Nature, she simply smiled. “Put on your thinking caps, you two,” she said. “You have only named half of them. For sure you are not to blame for that, for some of them you have never seen. There is one member of the Squirrel family whom both of you do know very well and yet neither of you named them.”
Chatterer looked at Happy Jack, and Happy Jack looked at Chatterer, and each scratched his head. Each wanted to be the first to think of that other cousin. For although they scratched and scratched their heads, they couldn’t think who that other cousin could be. Mother Nature waited a few minutes before she told them. Then, seeing that either they couldn’t remember or didn’t know, she said, “You didn’t mention Johnny Chuck.”
“Johnny Chuck!” exclaimed Chatterer and Happy Jack together, and the look of surprise on their faces was truly a funny sight to see. For that matter, the looks on the faces of Peter Rabbit and Jumper the Hare were equally as funny.
Mother Nature nodded. “Johnny Chuck,” she repeated. “He is a member of the Squirrel family. He belongs to the Marmot branch and he is a Squirrel just the same. He is one of your cousins.”
“He’s a mighty funny looking Squirrel,” said Chatterer, jerking his tail as only he can.
Mother Nature looked first at Chatterer and then at Happy Jack. “I think it would be helpful if you both came to learn with me for a while along with Peter Rabbit and Jumper the Hare. Would that be alright? Now which of you can tell me what order do you all belong to?”
Happy Jack looked at Chatterer, Chatterer looked at Peter Rabbit, and Peter looked at Jumper the Hare. On the face of each was such a funny, puzzled expression that Mother Nature almost laughed right out. Finally Peter Rabbit found his tongue. “If you please,” he said, “I guess we don’t know what you mean by an order.”
“Oh yes, right you are, let me explain.” said Mother Nature. “First, the animals of the Great World are divided into big groups or divisions, and then these groups are divided into smaller groups, and these in turn into still smaller groups. Happy Jack and Chatterer belong to a group called the Squirrel family, and Peter and Jumper to a group called the Hare family. Both of these families and several other families belong to a bigger group called an order, and this order is the order of Gnawers, or Rodents.”
Peter Rabbit fairly jumped up in the air with excitement. “Then Jumper and I must be related to Happy Jack and Chatterer,” he cried.
“In a way you are,” replied Mother Nature. “It isn’t a very close relationship, still you are related. All of you are Rodents. So are all the members of the Rat and Mouse family, the Beaver family, the Porcupine family, the Pocket Gopher family, the Pika family, and the Sewellel family.”
By this time Peter’s eyes looked as if they would pop right out of his head. “This is the first time I’ve ever heard of some of those families,” he said. “My, what a lot we have to learn! Is it because all the members of all those families have teeth for gnawing that they are all sort of related?”
Mother Nature looked pleased. “Peter,” she said, “that is exactly why. All the members of all the families I have named belong to the same order, the order of Rodents. All the members have big, cutting, front teeth. Animals without such teeth cannot gnaw. Now, as you and Jumper have learned about your family, it is the turn of Happy Jack and Chatterer to learn about their family. Theirs is rather a large family, and it is divided into three groups, the first of which consists of the true Squirrels, to which group both Happy Jack and Chatterer belong. The second group consists of the Marmots, and Johnny Chuck belongs to this. The third group Timmy the Flying Squirrel has all to himself.”
“Where does Striped Chipmunk come in?” asked Chatterer.
“I’m coming to that,” replied Mother Nature. “The true Squirrels are divided into the Tree Squirrels, Rock Squirrels, and Ground Squirrels. Of course Chatterer and Happy Jack are Tree Squirrels.”
“And Striped Chipmunk is a Ground Squirrel,” Peter inserted.
Mother Nature shook her head. “Actually, no Peter, this is not the case,” she said. “Striped Chipmunk is a Rock Squirrel. Seek Seek the Spermophile who lives on the plains of the West and is often called Gopher Squirrel, is the true Ground Squirrel.”
“And now I must run along,” said Mother Nature. “You little folks enjoy your day and I’ll meet with you all again here tomorrow morning where I shall expect Chatterer to tell me all about Happy Jack, and Happy Jack to tell me all about Chatterer.”
So Peter, Jumper, Chatterer, and Happy Jack thanked Mother Nature for all she had told them and scampered away. Peter headed straight for the far corner of the Orchard where he was sure he would find Johnny Chuck. He couldn’t get there fast enough, for he wanted to be the first to tell Johnny Chuck that he was a Squirrel. You see he didn’t believe that Johnny knew any of this.
- Can you make a long list of what Rodents, or Gnawers, live in your “neck-of-the-woods” or neighborhood?
- Do you have squirrels? Do you know which kind? Where they live or rest? What do they eat?
- Visit this LINK to see photos and learn more about squirrels from the Mass Audubon Society.
- *Observe and Ponder: Does the squirrel trot along or leap when running on the ground? Run straight ahead or stop and look about to see if the “coast is clear”? Does the squirrel have long or short legs? Does it have paws with claws? When climbing a tree, does it go straight up, or move around the trunk? Does it hide using the tree trunk? Is it able to go head first down the tree? Can it travel on the smallest of branches? Does it follow the same route to and from the tree? How does it hold its leg and tail when in the air jumping from branch to branch? What colors are on a red squirrel? Does it change with the seasons? Is the tail as long as the body? Does it express emotion? What is it used for in regards to jumping or in their nest?
Prompts with a * are inspired by or found in the Handbook of Nature Study written by Anna Botsford Comstock, a professor at Cornell University, focusing on flora & fauna in the Northeast in 1911.