Snaggletooth first showed up a couple of years ago. Along with maybe 20 other gray squirrels, she would occasionally stop by the back deck to visit the bird feeders and partake of the sunflower seed and suet cakes. There was also peanut butter for the woodpeckers and, sometimes whole peanuts for all.
Many of the squirrels had distinguishing characteristics that led us to call them by name. Most were obvious – Striped Belly, Short Tail, Spot, One Ear, Warble – and certainly not very original. One frequent visitor appeared to have a patch of white hair on the right side of her face leading us to call her White Whisker. It was always good to see return visitors, and the constant interaction with the feeder birds is more amusing than a big screen TV.
Acorns had been scarce that fall so the gray squirrels seemed to appreciate the free and easy supply of food. Hopefully we made their life a little easier, and they returned the favor by entertaining constantly.
Toward the end of winter was the hardest time as food was scarce and the critters were worn down from the constant search for food. As it began to warm up in the spring and the snow melted, the numbers of squirrels began to fall as many moved off to familiar denning areas to raise families. A greening earth and swelling buds would provide new food sources as life goes on.
White Whisker continued to hang around and, in fact, was looking haggard and thin. Open sores had appeared on her back leg and neck. Winter had not been kind to her, but she was still alive. She appeared to spend most of her time eating peanut butter and suet.
One morning in the spring, my better-half called out, “There’s a squirrel hung on the suet feeder and can’t get off. What can we do?”
Sure enough, there was White Whisker, hanging by her teeth and looking much like an animal version of Cirque du Soleil. She couldn’t seem to handle the dismount, so I lowered the feeder onto the deck. If she could get some traction with her feet, maybe she would get off.
That didn’t seem to help, as she drug the wire cage around, frantically pinballing off of deck furniture until falling off the edge and into the creek below the house.
This was suddenly getting more complicated than it should be. So, donning muck boots and leather gloves and equipped with pliers and side cutters, I took off after her.
It was obvious that her incisors were hooked over the stout wire framework of the suet feeder. Like most rodents, squirrel teeth continue to grow throughout their lives, and they must continuously wear them down. If mis-aligned, underused or not worn down, these oversized incisors can cause a squirrel (or groundhog or rat) to starve to death as lower teeth grow into the upper jaw, eye or brain.
Meanwhile, back in the mud, I grabbed ahold of the cage and the squirrel. The pliers and side cutters proved to be inadequate for cutting the wire of the feeder, but she suddenly turned sideways and slipped off unharmed. It was then I noticed that the white whisker was really an extra tooth sticking out sideways. About an inch long and apparently useless, this rogue tooth stuck out like something you would see on a wild hog or maybe a tusk on an elephant. And Snaggletooth seemed a much more appropriate name now than White Whisker.
According to YouTube, squirrels with dental problems are much more common than anyone would think. Just look up “saber toothed squirrels” – no, not the Disney version – and it appears that a squirrel dentist could be kept busy correcting and healing these critters and other rodents. Be aware that squirrels are not particularly cooperative and probably don’t do well on paying their bills either.
Incredibly, three or four days after the wrestling match with Snaggletooth, she showed up at the feeder ready for more. She avoided the suet cage but ate the peanut butter as she appeared to shove it in around her front teeth with her paws. Later that summer, she began eating more sunflower seeds and less PB. It wasn’t easy. It would take her about 30 seconds to consume a single sunflower seed as she gummed it around. Any healthy squirrel worth its salt could eat a handful of seeds in that time, but at least she was alive.
As September rolled around, once again acorns were scarce. Squirrels became conspicuous by their absence. Most had moved on to greener pastures, so to speak, in pursuit of the acorn crop. Snaggletooth hung around until we took off on a five-day visit to the Finger Lakes region. On our return she was nowhere to be found.
The leaves came down and fall stretched into winter, giving us one of the coldest Novembers in recent memory. Ice formed on the lake for weeks at a time making life tough for the geese and ducks passing through there. Squirrels once again began to frequent the feeders as they exhausted distant food sources.
In mid-December, Snaggletooth returned. She just showed up one day, unannounced, looking fit and well fed. Her winter coat was in good shape with no sores showing and she was eating everything in sight. The rogue tooth is still there – bigger than before – but not a hindrance. Also, she apparently had worn down the incisors enough that they are once again functional. Or it could be that she stumbled into that squirrel dentist somewhere in her journeys.
Snaggletooth now visits daily and has no trouble eating a peanut or a sunflower seed.