Male vs. Female Squirrel: 6 Key Differences 

Written by Kathryn Dueck
Published: November 29, 2023
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If you’ve seen a squirrel scampering up a tree or perching on a feeder in your backyard, you may be curious whether it’s male or female. Unfortunately, differentiating between the sexes in squirrels is notoriously tricky. Currently, there are well over 200 extant species of squirrels, which means that sexual differences vary somewhat by species. However, a few differentials remain more or less consistent. Read on to discover six critical differences between male and female squirrels and the best way to tell them apart.

Summary Table of Male vs Female Squirrel

TraitMaleFemale
SizeUsually similar to males, though females may be smaller in some speciesGenerally similar to males
Vulva is present and close to the anus
Mammary glands with visible teats are present and enlarge during the breeding season.
AnatomyGenerally similar to females
Penis and scrotum are present and located away from the anus
Scrotum swells and sometimes stains during breeding season
It gives off a scent to indicate estrus
Receptive sexual partner
Gives birth to and raises a litter of young
Social Behavior and TemperamentMore aggressive and dominantLess aggressive and dominant
CommunicationLess physically affectionateMore physically affectionate, especially with other females
Roles in Raising YoungIt gives off a scent to indicate estrus
Receptive sexual partner
Gives birth to and raises a litter of young
Responsible for raising young
ReproductionVies with other males for the right to reproduce
Insertive sexual partner
Gives off a scent to indicate estrus
Receptive sexual partner
Gives birth to and raises a litter of young
Summary of male vs female squirrel: 6 key differences.

Male vs Female Squirrel: 6 Key Differences

Although it can be challenging to tell a male from a female squirrel from a distance, there are several key differences between the sexes. These include size, anatomy, social behavior and temperament, communication, roles in raising young, and reproduction. As with most animals, the surest way to tell male and female squirrels apart is by sexing them, which means examining their genitals.

Size

Red Squirrel Photo North Yorkshire Eat Swim Jump Reflection Pool

Male and female squirrels are typically the same size, though this can vary by species.

©Sam Robertshaw/Shutterstock.com

In most squirrel species, sexual dimorphism is not prominent. As a result, it is difficult to tell males and females apart using visual criteria such as size. Although some males may be larger than females depending on the species, the difference is insignificant enough to be a reliable determinant. In gray squirrels, for example, the size differential is usually negligible. That said, other species, like the Arctic ground squirrel, noticeably larger feature males.

Anatomy

Squirrel on a Tree Branch

The easiest way to tell male squirrels from females is by sexing them (examining their genitals).

©Troy Thomas/iStock via Getty Images

Because sexual dimorphism is limited in squirrels, males and females appear much the same in terms of size but also in terms of color and general anatomy. The most significant difference between the sexes is their genitalia and mammae. Males have penises and scrotums, while females have vulvas and mammary glands with teats. In females, the vulva is typically very close to the anal aperture under the tail. Male genitalia tend to sit further away from this opening. During breeding season, a male squirrel’s scrotum swells and, in some cases, stains. At the same time, a female squirrel’s teats enlarge and become more visible. This makes it easier to have sex with individuals from a distance.

Social Behavior and Temperament

Close up of grey and red squirrels in autumn, UK.

Male squirrels tend to act more aggressively than females.

©Giedriius/Shutterstock.com

As in most animal species, male squirrels tend to be more aggressive and dominant than females. Older and larger squirrels consistently act more dominantly in both males and females. Male squirrels are typically bolder than females, which means they emerge from hibernation sooner and are more daring in their explorations as juveniles.

Male squirrels tend to congregate together when not mating with females. Females, on the other hand, either congregate with other females or preside alone over their litters. During the breeding season, the males fight other males for the right to mate. Once a male has conceded defeat and fled, the victor chases the female until he catches her.

Communication

Happiest Animals_ Squirrel

Female squirrels are typically more physically affectionate than males.

©EcoPrint/Shutterstock.com

Both male and female squirrels communicate through a series of intricate calls and sounds. However, females are more likely to be physically affectionate with each other than males. Signs of affection between squirrels include touching noses, grooming, and sharing nests.

Roles in Raising Young

Family of baby squirrels peaking out of tree nest

Unlike females, male squirrels have no role in raising their young.

©Marc A Sherman/Shutterstock.com

One of the primary differences between male and female squirrels has to do with the raising of their young. Male squirrels have little to no involvement in child-rearing, leaving the females to shoulder the responsibility. Females keep their litters close for the first few weeks or months. After this, juvenile males typically leave to join other males while adolescent females remain closer to their mother and other females.

Reproduction

Squirrel couple during mating season

A male squirrel will chase the female of his choice until he catches her.

©iStock.com/BetsyMoseley

Reproduction is one of the easiest ways to observe the differences between male and female squirrels. During the breeding season, female squirrels emit a distinctive scent that alerts nearby males that they’ve entered estrus. Male squirrels then fight other males for the right to reproduce with available females. After scaring away other suitors, the victorious male chases down his desired female. Males do not easily give up once the chase has begun. After mounting the female and inseminating her, the male leaves. The female may then mate with additional suitors.

After a gestation period, female squirrels give birth to live litters and raise them in dens within a confined territory. After a few weeks or months, the juveniles leave the den and eventually their mother.

Conclusion

The critical differences between male and female squirrels are size, anatomy, social behavior and temperament, communication, roles in raising young, and reproduction. Sexual dimorphism is extremely limited in most squirrel species, so it is difficult to distinguish between the sexes from a distance.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Nigel J. Harris/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Kathryn Dueck is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on wildlife, dogs, and geography. Kathryn holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical and Theological Studies, which she earned in 2023. In addition to volunteering at an animal shelter, Kathryn has worked for several months as a trainee dog groomer. A resident of Manitoba, Canada, Kathryn loves playing with her dog, writing fiction, and hiking.

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