This time, the furry rodents are doing more than chewing floodlight wires and emptying bird feeders.
They appear to be migrating – in a mass exodus – from some of the state’s northern counties.
“Our offices have been taking reports and noting unusually high numbers of road-killed squirrels for weeks, especially in the mountains,” said Wildlife Resources Division biologist Adam Hammond. “We also received several reports of squirrels swimming in Lake Blue Ridge in Fannin County, with one particular angler reporting 10 or more in a day.”
The phenomenon is reminiscent of the Great Squirrel Migration of 1968, when thousands of squirrels hit the road in search of nuts and acorns after weather conditions left their normal habitat devoid of mast crops.
Don’t believe me? I couldn’t make this up if I tried.
That event was so widespread and unusual that it caught the attention of the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Short-Lived Phenomena, according to a study launched that year by the University of Maryland’s Natural Resources Institute.
The migration 45 years ago spawned the same types of reports officials are receiving this year, beginning with a bizarre account in the Asheville Citizen newspaper in September 1968.
“This was followed during the next two weeks by other newspaper accounts of vast mass migrations, mass starvation, and unusual activities such as swimming lakes, damaging farmers’ crops or entering areas where they had previously been absent,” the Maryland report said.
“The number of dead squirrels on the highway was spectacular,” principal scientist Vagn Flyger wrote. “For example, Mr. C.M. Teseneer, Game Protector, reported 28 dead squirrels on a 22-mile stretch of highway, over 100 dead squirrels on an 80-mile stretch, and 100 dead specimens on a 27-mile stretch – all near Asheville.”
This year’s reports aren’t yet as widespread, but officials say the causes of the 2013 migration might be due to the same factors that sent the squirrels moving in 1968.
Biologists believe this year’s large-scale move is a result of the large mast crop, mainly oak acorns, produced last fall, which resulted in a larger than average number of young squirrels born this year.
The mild winter and wet spring combined with low mast availability this fall – sending squirrels in search of new habitat with more food.
“This may lead to more squirrels becoming ‘road kill’ and may help to explain the high number of ‘swimming squirrels’ that have recently been observed,” Hammond said.
That leaves just one key question: where will all these squirrels turn up? It might be in your own backyard.