It seems on any walk in the desert, I see a Harris’ Antelope Squirrel. Usually the creature runs ahead of me, a tiny tattler scampering off to tell, there’s an intruder afoot! Even in August, when heat lies heavy on the land, the Harris’ Antelope squirrel can be seen skittering toward the shelter of its burrow, tail over its back like a jaunty banner.
Of the three squirrels that live in Arizona, only the Harris’ stays out and about summer and winter. She forages in the rocky lowlands, running in search of cholla and barrel cactus fruits, seeds, mesquite beans and insects. Wolfberries and ocotillo flowers add variety to her diet.
Millions of seeds lie buried in the desert soil, waiting for rain. The Harris’ Antelope Squirrel sniffs out these seeds and digs them up, leaving tell-tale depressions in the grit. She scrambles easily over the curving spines of the barrel cactus to feast on the fruits up top.
A ground dweller, the Harris’ Antelope Squirrel digs holes under sheltering cacti and desert shrubs. Several holes together along with mounds of loose dirt mark underground burrows used for shelter and nesting.
One of few creatures active in the summer, the squirrel carries her own shade – a fluffy tail, which makes a nice umbrella. In the hottest part of the day, overheated from foraging, the squirrel retreats to her burrow and sprawls in the relative cool to disperse body heat. Then its back to work.
The squirrels are hunted by every desert predator, from raptors to snakes to coyotes. Although solitary creatures, they are known to rise up on hind legs when danger lurks, and give a shrill trilling call.