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What Is a Sun Squirrel?

C.B. Fox
C.B. Fox

A sun squirrel is any species of squirrel in the genus Helioscurius. There are six recognized species and a number of sub species, usually differentiated by color. These squirrels are native to sub-Saharan Africa, and most species are common in their endemic ranges. Like other members of the rodent family, sun squirrels have incisors that grow continually.

All species of sun squirrel are native to tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, south of the Saharan desert. Arboreal animals, these squirrels spend much of their time in trees and are often observed resting on tree limbs in the sun, which is how they got their name. They live in wooded areas from jungles to scrubland but are not found in savanna or desert regions. The various species in the genus inhabit different countries in Africa, with some species, such as the Gambian sun squirrel found in western, central, and eastern African nations, while others, such as the mutable sun squirrel, found only in countries on the southeastern African coast.

Sun squirrels are native to the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa.
Sun squirrels are native to the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa.

Opportunistic eaters, sun squirrels are omnivorous and will eat just about anything they come across. Many species eat a number of different types of nuts and seeds as well as insects, eggs, and other small animals. Members of the Helioscurius genus have been observed eating reptiles, birds, and amphibians and it is believed that they may also eat other small mammals. Though they are not hunters, they will catch and consume other animals if the opportunity arises.

Members of the sun squirrel genus are small, weighing about 0.7 pounds (318 grams) and growing to a length of 8 inches (20 cm). Their long, thin bodies and light weight help them move adeptly through trees. Coloration varies considerably between species and subspecies. They come in shades of gray, brown, yellow, and red, and some have spots or stripes on their backs.

It is not known how long sun squirrels live in the wild, though in captivity they have been known to reach 8 or 9 years of age. Most species are thought to breed twice per year, in the summer and winter. Females have small litters, usually only one or two offspring each time, so having two breeding seasons each year greatly increases the squirrel's chance of successfully rearing offspring to adulthood. Sun squirrels are largely solitary animals, though some species, notably the red-legged sun squirrel, are often found in pairs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a sun squirrel?

A sun squirrel is a small to medium-sized rodent known for its vibrant fur, which often has a golden or reddish hue, reminiscent of sunlight. These squirrels are typically diurnal, active during the day, and are found in various habitats, including forests and urban areas. They are agile climbers and have a diet consisting of nuts, seeds, and fruits.

Where can sun squirrels be found?

Sun squirrels are native to various regions, including parts of Africa and Asia. Their habitat ranges from tropical rainforests to dry savannas, depending on the species. They have adapted to a wide range of environments and can also be found in agricultural areas and on the outskirts of urban settings where trees are abundant.

What distinguishes sun squirrels from other squirrel species?

Sun squirrels are distinguished by their distinctive fur coloration, which tends to be brighter and more vibrant than that of other squirrel species. They also have a unique set of behaviors and adaptations to their specific habitats. For example, some sun squirrel species have been observed sunbathing, which is a behavior not commonly seen in other squirrels.

How do sun squirrels contribute to their ecosystem?

Sun squirrels play a crucial role in their ecosystems as seed dispersers. By burying nuts and seeds, which they may not retrieve, they inadvertently contribute to the growth of new plants and trees. This activity aids in forest regeneration and biodiversity. Additionally, they are a food source for predators, thus contributing to the food chain.

Are sun squirrels endangered?

The conservation status of sun squirrels varies by species. While some populations are stable, others may be at risk due to habitat loss, hunting, and other human activities. It's important to consult the IUCN Red List or similar databases for the most current information on the conservation status of specific sun squirrel species.

What can people do to help protect sun squirrels?

To help protect sun squirrels, individuals can support conservation efforts that focus on preserving natural habitats and preventing deforestation. Participating in or donating to wildlife conservation organizations, promoting awareness about the importance of biodiversity, and advocating for sustainable land use policies are effective ways to contribute to the well-being of these and other wildlife species.

Discussion Comments


@Feryll - No, sun squirrels are not flying squirrels. You might could say they are opposites because, as the article says, the sun squirrel likes to lie on branches and soak in the sun rays. Flying squirrels are the opposite because they come out at night and sleep during the day, avoiding the sun.

I have read that the sun squirrels are a big problem in some places because they do eat about anything, including crops and food meant for humans. They can also reproduce very quickly and when they don't have any local predators they can get out of control.


@Feryll - You are right about flying squirrels not flying, but they do glide and it looks like they are flying when they are moving through the air. To answer you question, I don't think the sun squirrel classifies as a flying squirrel, though I have never seen one of them.

The first time you see a flying squirrel you will probably not even recognize it as a squirrel at first. It moves so strangely. It doesn't move like other squirrels.


I know there is no such thing as a squirrel that actually flies, but is the sun squirrel one of the ones that are sometimes called flying squirrels?

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    • Sun squirrels are native to the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa.
      By: Ruslan Olinchuk
      Sun squirrels are native to the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa.