See a Squirrel? These Citizen Scientists Want to Know About It

Jamie Allen
Jamie Allen

If you spot a squirrel, Jamie Allen wants to know about it. In 2011, Allen, an Atlanta-based writer, found himself wondering exactly how many squirrels there were in the world around him. And so he and another squirrel-curious friend decided to launch the Squirrel Census, an effort to count all the squirrels in his neighborhood. Several woodland-rodent tallies later, the Squirrel Census has gone national.

The first squirrel count began in Atlanta’s Inman Park, where Allen lives, in the spring of 2012, followed by another in the fall of 2015. For each, the Squirrel Census team created an elaborate visual guide to the data for the public, squirrel-obsessed and not. Now, this fall, the project is branching out. Allen and his fellow squirrel counters are organizing a Central Park Squirrel Census for October 2018 with help from local universities, the New York City Parks Department, and other groups.

A person holds up an oversized map.
Squirrel Census

According to the Squirrel Census website, the project is focused “on the Eastern gray (Sciurus carolinensis), his pals, and his mortal enemies.” With its distinctly whimsical site design, filled with animated squirrels and an unexplained pop-up image of author Tom Clancy, you’d be forgiven for thinking the wildlife census is somewhat of a lark. And it is partly a storytelling exercise—the 2016 version of the Squirrel Census report, called Land of a Thousand Squirrels, included not just infographics and a map on the Inman Park squirrel population, but fiction and “general fun,” as Allen told Mental Floss in an email. But it has real scientific methodology, too.

The Squirrel Census team includes an Emory University epidemiologist, a veterinarian, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife fire specialist, and a wildlife illustrator, as well as a small legion of designers, fundraisers, logistics specialists, and other supporters. To estimate squirrel populations, the team uses an established wildlife-counting formula that has previously been used by scientists to study events like the Great Squirrel Migration of 1968. They break the area they want to study into quadrants and send volunteers out with clipboards, maps, and specific questions to tally squirrels over a set amount of time.

A close-up of a map of squirrel sightings
Squirrel Census

Since the first census, Allen and the Squirrel Census team have thrown events to bring their results to the public, spoken at Emory University and other colleges about their methods and results, and launched an iPhone app, called Squirrel Sighter, to allow citizen scientists to contribute data from around the world. Each time a user indicates they've seen a squirrel (dead or alive) in the app, the Atlanta-based Squirrel Census team gets an update with data on the date and time, the location of the sighting, and the weather conditions there.

The app, and the census itself, is meant as a way to “attract people to the idea of sighting squirrels, which are normally so common as to be invisible,” according to Allen, as well as to encourage people to “realize the strange joy of just taking a moment to get outside of their own heads and pay attention to something else.” And of course, in the process, they’ll gather a huge chunk of data that can be used to study wildlife populations in urban areas.

“There are many reasons to do any wildlife census,” Allen tells Mental Floss. “Information is power, it's educational, and our data has been used in academic studies on squirrel populations. But for me, the simple idea of a census allows people to appreciate their surroundings in entirely different and new ways.”

Find Your Next Outdoor Adventure With This Scratch-Off National Parks Poster

Newverest
Newverest

Whether you’re a devoted thru-hiker, day-hiker, or a casual nature observer, America’s National Park system has something for everyone to enjoy, from wildlife to natural wonders ripe for exploration. And now one Kickstarter campaign is looking to bring your love of the parks into your home with this unique piece of wall art.

The U.S. National Parks scratch-off poster from Newverest will not only inspire your next hiking endeavor, but can help you keep track of your travels as well. If you pledge now, you can receive a copy of the poster for $25, and for $49, you can get the poster and a frame. 

A scratch-off national parks poster on the wall
Newverest

There are 60 different parks on this poster—which is available in black or white—that are represented by colorful illustrations created by local artists. When the poster arrives, though, the illustrations will be grayed-out. It's up to you to scratch them off as you visit the parks, revealing the full-color art underneath. "Think of the national parks scratch-off poster as your bucket list of National Parks,” the company says on its campaign page.

When you purchase a poster, you’ll also receive a metal mediator scratch-off tool, a microfiber cleaning cloth to wipe away any residue, adhesive stickers for easy hanging, and 62 cards that feature a hand-drawn scene of each park, along with interesting facts about them. For instance, on the Sequoia and Kings Canyon card, you’ll learn the park is home to the largest sequoia trees in the world, whereas the Arches National Park card lets the reader know the territory is home to over 2000 arches.

Scratch-off National Parks poster
Newverest

Newverest, founded in 2017, isn’t new to the poster game: The company also makes U.S. and global scratch-off maps. Alongside helping plan trips, the company hopes their newest poster will educate kids and adults alike about the beauty of the parks and why they should be preserved.

With $3257 raised, Newverest is still working to reach its $10,000 goal. But you can help bring the project to life until February 21 by heading here.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

Last Wild Grove of Wollemi Pines, the Endangered ‘Dinosaur Trees,’ Saved From Australia's Wildfires

Marina Denisenko, iStock via Getty Images
Marina Denisenko, iStock via Getty Images

Almost three decades after they were rediscovered, the ancient "dinosaur trees" of Australia's Wollemi National Park were nearly wiped out for good. Wildlife officials in New South Wales feared that the last natural stand of Wollemi pines would be counted among the billions of plants and animals destroyed by Australia's recent wave of wildfires. But thanks to quick action from firefighters, the ancient grove has been saved, The Guardian reports.

The first Wollemi pines date as far back as 200 million years, and the trees reached peak numbers 65 million to 34 million years ago. Since then, populations have shrunk so drastically that the species was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered 26 years ago. Fewer than 200 wild specimens exist today, and they're all concentrated in a protected sandstone grove in Wollemi National Park, about 125 miles northwest of Sydney, Australia.

The Wollemi pines' fragile status means that one bad forest fire could spell its end. With this in mind, the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service and NSW Rural Fire Service prioritized their protection this bushfire season. Before the Gospers Mountain fire spread to the canyons where the trees grow, a team of firefighters was sent there by helicopter to install an irrigation system. This kept the trees hydrated and made them less vulnerable to flames. Helicopters also dumped fire retardant around the grove to weaken the fire when it arrived.

The efforts weren't able be able to save every Wollemi pine from damage and destruction—a few trees survived with charring and two more died—but they were enough ensure the continuation of the species. With a population this small, protecting it is a never-ending battle. In addition to fire, visitors stepping on seedlings and introducing diseases also pose a threat. For that reason, the Australian government has chosen to hide the exact location of the grove from the public.

[h/t The Guardian]

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