The gray squirrel is one of the most common animals found in backyards across Georgia. Indeed, it has proven to be able to coexist with humans.
One reason they flourish in our backyards is linked to the fact they are omnivores. In other words, they can eat both animals and plants. In fact, studies have shown they can consume upwards of 60 species of plants alone. We all know they will eat anything from tomatoes to various nuts, berries, buds and the like. In addition, they will also eat mushrooms.
Recently while walking about my backyard on an unseasonably balmy winter afternoon, I happened across evidence that a gray squirrel had recently been dining of a mushroom. The mushroom had been knocked over and pieces of the fragile plant were strewn about. When I looked closely at the pieces, I could actually see tooth marks left by the hungry squirrel. Then next day I found, since the last time I visited the feeding site, a squirrel had eaten even more of the mushroom. Prudent homeowners would never try to eat a mushroom without being sure the mushroom was not poisonous. Even then, you cannot be sure what you are eating. I have a friend that fancied himself as being a mushroom expert. One on fateful occasion, his misidentification of a mushroom landed him and his family in the hospital.
Eating a poison mushroom is not a concern for the gray squirrel. Remarkably, they seem to be able to eat any mushroom without risking becoming sick or killed. In fact, researchers have found gray squirrels have the ability to eat mushrooms containing deadly amanita (deathcap) toxins with impunity. The gray squirrel is one of only a handful of animals capable of this gastronomic fete.
Who would have ever thought that the animal that eats our vegetables, destroys our bird nesting boxes, eats more than its fair share of seeds at our feeders, and even invades our attics is a uniquely special animal? I know I didn’t.