|Chemical Communication in Gray Squirrels: Using Camera Traps to Uncover Patterns in Scent Marking Behavior|
|Sasha J. Ewing, Maura E. Sullivan, John Van Niel. Finger Lakes Community College, Canandaigua, NY, United States
Our understanding of chemical communication in mammals still holds many mysteries. Eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) deposit scent produced in sebaceous glands via tree bark biting and cheek rubbing. Marking points (MP) are the most conspicuous sign of this behavior. MP are often located near the base of large-diameter, thick-barked trees which squirrels have marked repeatedly creating a vertical area of discoloration. Although MP are abundant wherever gray squirrels are found, their function is little understood. Research on other mammals known to leave scent on trees, such as the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and American black bear (Ursus americanus), show an increase in marking behavior in association with their breeding seasons. Camera traps were set at MP sites from December 2017 to March 2019 to determine if there is an increase in MP visitation frequency by gray squirrels in association with their breeding seasons. In year two of the study, squirrels were captured and ear tagged (n=20) so MP visitation sex ratios could be determined and compared to the existing literature.