Yep, its true.
I first read about this on National Geographic’s site in the article, Squirrel Birth Control: To Stop Invasion, Science Gets Seedy. The subtitle is, Drug-laced sunflower seeds may lower numbers of the booming rodents.
I like squirrels and am one of the people feeding the little varmints, but not everybody is so squirrel friendly. The squirrels do a lot of damage and make a bad name for themselves getting into mischief with those sharp choppers.
Last year with the weather so mild in winter, the squirrels must have been getting busy in the trees. Did you know they have two litters a year with usually two to four kits? I saw two of them starting a family in my backyard late Spring. They are pairing now too, from December through January.
There was a bumper crop of little squirrel this past Spring and Summer. But really, nature was busy producing a bumper crop of nuts, so food was very plentiful as well. Plentiful supply leads to more squirrels.
What started South Carolina’s Clemson University to look into squirrel birth control, was that the little rodents were decimating fruit crops by eating and tarnishing fruit.
It got so bad that squirrels were eating half a tree’s fruit in a couple of hours. Some apples only had a bite or two, making the fruit worthless for commercial sale. Compounding the damage, they were girdling trees, and that can make any grower want to have war on the squirrels.
Once it hits cash crops, biologists spring into action. They had a decade-long struggle with the gnawing rodents, so something had to be done, and fast.
Various methods were tried. They looked at non-lethal squirrel-control methods, like capturing and then injecting them with birth control chemicals. This was labor intensive and very time-consuming.
Not to mention a little humorous. Can you just picture scientists racing around the tree filled lawns armed with tiny condoms and little contraceptive injections? So they resorted to a seedy solution, settling on a food delivery method. Knowing squirrels just love sunflower seeds gave them an idea.
The drug laced seed is created by researchers at South Carolina’s Clemson University, using a drug called DiazaCon. This drug, originally developed for humans but discontinued due to side effects, mimics cholesterol in the system and inhibits cholesterol production. This lessens reproduction. It did not start with squirrels though.
The drug made its way to limit reproduction on nuisance birds, like pigeons, blackbirds, starlings and sparrows, among others. It was marketed for pigeons, trademarked, Ornithol. Then it was further tested on mammals, such as rats and prairie dogs.
Now the drug is being looked at for squirrel control by lacing sunflower seeds. Mixed in with the DiazaCon coating is a nontoxic dye that, once ingested, stains the squirrels’ undersides pink to identify treated squirrels from those untreated. They must be darn cute with their bellies dyed pink.
You really have to wonder what the squirrels would think if they were cognizant of what humans were up to. Really, when you think of all the animals, insects and plants we mess with and much for the sake of our well-being, it really does not shine well on us as a species.
The birds I mentioned taking this drug… some of them developed muscle tremors. Is it worth destroying the lives of other species? Honestly, looking at all the cute squirrel photos in this post, it is hard to imagine them being so destructive, yet they are. So what is the answer?
I wanted more info on squirrel population explosion and went to Science for some intellectual insight on the subject. I found an article that talked about the surplus of seed and nuts in relationship to the subsequent increase in squirrels reproduction.
I am somewhat knowledgeable reading these papers and have to admit the one I was reading was overkill. They used phrases like, “resource pulses”, calling squirrels “seed predators”, seed production was “seed masting”, more squirrels, “trophic levels of ecological communities”.
Hey, all I wanted to know was the statistics of additional squirrels last year and of course that was not noted. Sometimes, it is better to just say it like it is. Just call the gray squirrel black, when it is indeed black!