As my coworkers often remind me, we can’t apply human morality to animals, I still do so from a strictly practical lens, let’s take a look at the benefits of cannibalism and infanticide. Cannibalism is a handy dandy way to reduce your pool of competitors and bolster your own odds of success by turning your rival into a snack. Infanticide has a similar purpose but instead of eliminating your current competion, you eliminate your competitor’s offspring which helps ensure that your babies have better odds at success and your genes have a better chance at remaining in the pool. I’m sorry that I keep saying “your” like this is something you do on weekends. I’m sure you don’t, it’s a non-specific “you”. We are not condoning you kill and eat your neighbours or their children.
Cannibalism and infanticide in the animal kingdom are interesting practices that can magically change conspecifics (animals of the same species) from enemy into food source or, at the very least, a non-issue. This is especially beneficial in areas that have limited or inconsistently available resources which is definitely the case here in the Yukon. We’ll look more in depth into how these benefits apply to squirrels but first, let’s learn a bit more about these fuzzy friends.
Despite both being squirrels and both being known to dabble in cannibalism and infanticide, red squirrels and arctic ground squirrels lead very different lives. Red squirrels are solitary, tree-dwelling creatures that live in non-overlapping territories that they defend aggressively. They base the location of these territories around where they have stashed food. The diet mainly revolves around mast producing trees (trees that produce seeds) that tend to grow wildly different amounts of seeds depending on the year. Remember this, it will be important later. Red squirrels also eat mushrooms, flowers, fruits, bugs, bark, sap, “animal products” (because most rodents are opportunistic omnivores!), and the insulation in the ceiling of my cabin.
Unlike the aggressive loner red squirrel, arctic ground squirrels believe in strength in numbers. They live in large subterranean colonies and even engage in altruistic behavior to keep other members of that colony safe: they’ll stand up on their hind legs and give off an alarm call to warn others of predators. This makes the caller a lot more noticeable to predators in the area but gives their colony buddies better odds of getting away. Isn’t that nice? I think that’s nice.