The eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) is the official state wild game animal of Kentucky and has been since its adoption in 1968. Unlike many other states, Kentucky does not have a classic “state animal”, nor does it have land or marine mammals, the only official animal to represent the bluegrass state is the squirrel.

The gray squirrel is one of the largest members of the rodent family and has been residing in North America for over 37 million years. They are extremely intelligent and good planners, which is a strong reason why they have survived for so long and adapted to the constant changes on our planet.

Backyard wildlife designation
Backyard wildlife designation
Kentucky first began adopting its own official state symbols in 1792, the first symbol was the state seal. A few years after this, many other symbols were adopted, each having a role to play in the history of Kentucky and all intertwining together nicely. The gray squirrel is also known to reside in the Kentucky state tree from time to time.

Kentucky State Wild Game Animal

You can find the Kentucky state wild game animal all across the U.S., but they particularly enjoy residing east of the Mississippi River. During the autumn months, gray squirrels will typically spend their days gathering nuts and seeds and then hiding them for the winter months, they will not stop until they have enough to survive the entire winter.

Kentucky state animal

This is called “scatter hoarding”, and squirrels may be one of the best animals in the world at doing it. Gray squirrels will bury the food in hundreds of different locations, with some even spanning a couple of miles from each other. This is because they want to evenly distribute their seeds and nuts in small amounts so that if their stash is discovered by other squirrels or animals, they will not get all the food that they have found and hid.

They will clean their food before burying it too, this is so that their scent is on it which makes it much easier to discover at a later date, they can even smell it through thick layers of snow and overgrown grass, etc.

Here is a quick overview of the Kentucky state wild game animal:

  • Common name: Eastern Gray Squirrel
  • Scientific name: Sciurus carolinensis
  • Type: Mammal
  • Lifespan: Females 5 years, Males 2-3 years
  • Size: 30 cm (12 inches) long
  • Weight: 1.3 lbs (600 grams)
  • Coloration: Gray, black, brown

When it comes to their appearance, they tend to showcase a gray to brown color, with a white underbelly and a long bushy tail. They have 22 teeth which include large incisors on the bottom and top of their jaws.

Eastern Gray Squirrel Facts and Additional Information

They spend the majority of their time up in the safety of a large tree, however, when they do intend to hunt for seeds and nuts they have to go to the ground, especially when they want to bury their food for the winter months.

This leaves them more vulnerable to predators, and gray squirrels are unfortunately prey to a lot of different animals such as owls, hawks, dogs, foxes, rattlesnakes, coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions who all enjoy snacking on squirrels. Sometimes, in the unfortunate event that a squirrel passes away after it has stashed its seeds and nuts for the winter, the seeds and nuts that they hid in the ground will potentially grow into trees and plants!

Here are some fun facts about the gray squirrel:

  • They can smell a nut that has been buried up to 6 feet in snow!
  • They get the minerals their diet requires by chewing on dead animal bones.
  • Squirrels can swim! Not for very long and only short distances, but they can still use water to escape predators.
  • Gray squirrels will migrate if the population is too high in a certain area, making food very competitive to get.
  • They are not fussy eaters, with their diet consisting of seeds, nuts, fruits of elm, apples, maple, beech, dogwood, hackberry, wild cherries, elm, pine, oak, fungi, and occasionally bird eggs and insects!
  • Male and female squirrels will make winter and summer nests to hide from predators and for protection against the weather.
  • The nests are made up of plant fibers and shredded bark.
  • They give birth to litters of 4 usually.
  • Gray squirrels have two breeding seasons per year.
  • Squirrels do have a high mortality rate, but they also reproduce incredibly quickly and regularly.

State animal of Kentucky

Hunting squirrels is still going on throughout Kentucky, which is probably why they have remained as the wild game animal to represent the state. Hunters now have a 28-day spring season and a split fall/winter season that consists of 192 days within Kentucky. As a hunter in Kentucky, you are not allowed to kill and bag any more than 6 squirrels per day.

Final Thoughts

Most states will have their symbols showcase a relevant story, that is indicative of the state and its history, and the Bluegrass State puts its history and what it stands for across very well in the Kentucky state animal.

These interesting facts about Kentucky and a whole host of others are what makes the state so unique and fascinating to those that live there or are researching the historical events or geological makeup of the state.