Why have the squirrels eaten my green tomatoes?


 

The other day, I found one of my large tomatoes, still green, sitting half-eaten on my back deck. The next day, another. A few days later, my daughter caught a fat little rascal munching down on another green tomato.  He (or she…I haven’t learned to tell them apart) dropped it and ran for the  large oak in the back yard.

Now, I don’t mind the squirrels eating some of my tomatoes. After all, they have to eat too, and The Woodlands has an ordinance against using firearms. A BB gun did come to mind, but after thinking it through, I decided that sitting in my back yard in the mid-day heat, waiting for one of them to approach my vegetable garden, wasn’t that appealing either.  Besides, growing up, I hunted squirrels often in the piney woods of south Louisiana. That took some skill and the squirrel had a chance of surviving –especially if one was a poor shot. Shooting backyard squirrels is like shooting fish in a barrel.

I have found out that squirrels are pretty opportunistic eaters. In fact, there’s not much they won’t eat – they’re not picky by any means.

Native fruits (ever wonder why your passion vine rarely has fruit), flowers , nuts, trees, insects, berries,  and mushrooms. (I do not know how they can tell the difference between edible or poisonous mushrooms, but from the way they act sometimes, I think they may sometimes consume psilocybin fungi). And, of course, they also consume TOMATOES!

While the kids are trying to avoid eating their vegetables, the squirrels will go after just about anything you have planted in your garden. They’re fond of  radishes, corn, squash, beans, greens, okra, eggplant, Brussel sprouts, carrots, asparagus, cauliflower, cabbage, and leeks, to name a few.

Speaking of kids, squirrels also love children’s breakfast cereals:  shredded wheat, corn flakes, grape nuts, and  any cereal with extra sugar. The little monsters (the squirrels… not the kids…although that could be true as well in some cases) also like pizza, cheese of any kind and crackers.

Squirrels don’t restrict their diet to vegetation and human food. They will also eat lizards, snakes, worms, birds (babies and eggs mostly).

As the world gets more and more populated, the squirrel population has expanded as well, sharing our space, and also sharing our eating habits. Now, squirrels will eat discarded food in parks (or anywhere else). This includes half-eaten sandwiches…hamburgers, hot dogs,  bologna, egg salad. They consume dog food with as much relish as your family pet, your cat’s treats, and just about anything else you leave out.

They even ate the  mealworms we put out for the bluebirds. We tried putting hot pepper on the worms, but that didn’t deter them, although the hot pepper suet did keep them away from the bird feeder.

I have to admit, I do like to see them scrambling through their little highways in the trees, barking as they twisted and turned through the meandering branches.

I realize that squirrels, like everything else, don’t live forever.  They are a part of our new suburban ecosystem though, and have adapted to survive, just as we humans have. And they have natural predators…feral (and domestic) cats, hawks and eagles, and snakes all predate on the furry creatures.

Several years ago, as I was sitting in my backyard reading Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac, a squirrel   apparently disturbed by my blocking its way to greener pastures, was scolding me from the oak tree. Something whooshed above my head. As I looked up, I saw a very large red-shouldered hawk flying away with the very fat little squirrel in its talons.

Every living thing has two moments of pure truth: when we are born and when we die. The squirrel met his moment of truth naturally. I suppose we need more hawks.