'Rat-a-tat! Happy Year of the Rat!' says the squirrels
By An Qi

Hello everyone, happy Chinese New Year! We are squirrels, a big family including tree squirrels, ground squirrels, flying squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, groundhogs, and prairie dogs. Our close relatives are dormice. There are about 285 species of squirrels! 

CGTN Nature's film crew has recorded many of our family members. Take a look! 


This year is the Year of the Rat according to the Chinese lunar calendar. Do you know it is our year, too? Because in Chinese, rat is "shu" and almost all rodents are called "shu" in Chinese. We, the squirrels, are "song shu" (meaning "pine rat"). Many of us live in China. However, our family members are distributed all over the world except Arctic and Antarctic. We live in Eurasia, Africa and the Americas. And since human took us to Australia, we have occupied that continent too. 

You are most familiar with the tree squirrels that visit your garden and can fit on your palms. Well, not all of us are like that! The smallest squirrel, the African pygmy squirrel, measures only 10-14 centimeters in length and weighs 12-26 grams. While the largest one of us, the Bhutan giant flying squirrel, measures up to 1.27 meters in length and weighs eight kilograms. 

A black giant squirrel found in Yunnan, southwest China. It is one of the largest species of squirrel in the world.

A black giant squirrel found in Yunnan, southwest China. It is one of the largest species of squirrel in the world.

Thanks to Scrat, the saber-toothed squirrel in the movie series Ice Age, everybody now knows our love and passion for nuts. Yes, we do love nuts, and we are smart enough to remember where we bury them for winter. But that does not mean we eat nothing but nuts. Our diet includes a wide variety of plants, seeds, conifer cones, fruits, fungi, even eggs and insects. Sometimes we even eat meat.

About 'Rat-a-tat! Happy Rat Year!'

According to the Chinese Lunar Calendar, we are entering the Year of Rat on January 25, 2020. In Chinese, both rats and mice are called "shu". In fact, "shu" refers to almost all rodents - from squirrels, moles to chipmunks and chinchillas. Here we have seven kinds of "shu" from the rodent family to wish everybody a happy Chinese New Year. Let's hear their stories!

For other "shu" stories: 

The flying fox

The hamster

The chipmunk

The chinchilla

The guinea pig

The dormouse

(Cover image designed by CGTN's Yin Yating. Video provided by CGTN Nature's film crew.)

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