The Resident Carpenter tried to break it to me gently. “William has a vagina,” he said.
“William,” he tried again, “Is a girl squirrel. Not a boy.”
I gave him The Look. “Clearly, that is impossible.”
“You and I both massaged his little…appendage to help him go to the bathroom when he was a baby,” I reminded him, “Every two hours. If William’s a girl, then what the heck were we massaging?”
“All I know,” Nathan said stubbornly, “Is that there is this reddish opening in the back of William. I get that you thought he looked like a male when he was a baby, but…”
“Nathan,” I said firmly, “I bred dozens of hamsters and rats when I was a kid. Believe me, I know rodent…parts. Little girl rodents don’t have pinkish wormy things sticking out!”
Turns out the RC has suspected for some time that my rodent anatomical skills are less than perfect but, being a gentleman, hadn’t wanted to disillusion me. Certain events, however, forced him to speak up.
“Cynthia,” he began, patiently, “I think the reason that William is spending so much time outside, and building nests, and has so many different squirrel friends hanging around, is because he’s in..SHE’s in heat.”
“Uhm…no. William has a penis. If he also has a vagina he is the world’s first hermaphroditic squirrel.” And I hit up the Internet to prove it.
Did you know there are surprisingly few illustrations of Western gray squirrel genitalia on Wikipedia? Or any other websource I could find on my phone? After a few frustrating minutes, I turned to an unimpeachable source: Facebook.
I located a squirrel rehab group that provides camaraderie and advice for folk who help abandoned baby squirrels return to the wild, and posted a question that began:
Ok, I feel really REALLY stupid, but…after raising William the Conqueror from a two-week-old gray squirrel, helping him go potty every couple of hours by gently rubbing his little privates with a dampened q-tip… we should be pretty sure 5-month old William is a HEsquirrel..right?…
…adding pictures of William playing peekaboo. He wasn’t REALLY playing peekaboo, just responding to having his belly rubbed, but his pertinent parts displayed prominently.
Got several answers back within minutes:
“The picture as a baby is definitely a girl.”
“You aren’t alone. We thought our little girl was a little boy for the first 6 months. When they are really small some can be harder to tell than others while some are completely obvious.”
“Congratulations! It’s a girl! ;-)”
“This is why I call all my wild ones Freddie and Precious..lol!”
“Squirrel males are very well endowed even when they are pinkies. The testicles are very pronounced. The appendage on the females might look like a small penis, but it’s not.”
I knew I shouldn’t have ditched zoology. William is now officially “Willow,” although to keep from confusing her we still call her by her original name.
I would have posted more explicit William-as-adult images to show the difference,* but at five months, William simply doesn’t hold still.
He, er, she jumps, scoots, stops, turns, lands on your head, leaps into the backyard, runs up a tree.
Only the Resident Carpenter can get her to stop for more than half a mo, and not even then if there’s a camera in sight.
William regards camera phones as built-in “tag, you’re IT!” invitations. She’ll stop, stare, then run up, bite them, and streak off, like this:
Not to mention what she’ll do to the Resident Carpenter’s office when given the run of the place for a day or so. Her goal seems to be to accelerate the effects of gravity.
William has her own squirrel-sized door to the outdoors, so she comes and goes go freely; we’ve never attempted to confine her or make her feel trapped. As you can see from the video, though, when she’s inside, she is an enthusiastic, uhm, home renovator. Nothing is safe from William’s depredations unless we lock it away.
That’s one reason that William is only allowed into one room, the RC’s office, and why we keep that door closed at all times. The other reason is her safety: Two rather predatory Savannah cats live on the other side of that door.
While Nikki seems to regard William as a rather ugly little kitten she can play (gently) with, Lola favors William-as-entree. The William-Lola interactions to date convinced us that Lola should never EVER be left within striking distance of William, not if we want everyone to keep their own body parts.
Of course, William’s teeth are SHARP and she’s put on an impressive set of muscles in the past few weeks. But if matters came to a head, William quite likely would be minus one, and Lola would be nursing some pretty nasty wounds. And since the Resident Carpenter is head over heels in love with William, er, Willow, I sure wouldn’t want to be Lola when he discovered Lola enjoying a little William Tartare.
So… William enters the rest of the house only under close escort, that office door stays firmly shut, and the RC has turned the office into something of a squirrel paradise. There’s a giant double-decker squirrel cage in there that’s never shut, with a suspended cozy nest and the choicest of hand-cut fruits, veggies, and nuts.
There are plenty of squirrel-sized nooks and crannies to play in, a whole wall of books to destroy (William loves to rip the bindings off paperbacks), and the softest of cushions and blankets for burying treasures.
William is making over The RC’s coatrack into an even cozier second nest, filling a suspended duffel bag in the middle with napkins and kleenex and cotton balls and anything softish. When dusk threatens, she’ll zip in through the squirrel door (a hole in the window screen), grab a couple extra napkins and ball them up, then head for her coatrack nest, grumbling and chittering as she papers the walls.
The RC usually follows her with a few extra treats, then reaches in and gives William a goodnight bellyrub before she drops off to sleep. When light dawns in the morning she emerges, waits for him to pour a few extra nuts into her bowl, and they play finger-wrestling for awhile and cuddle. Then he heads to work and she zips through her squirrel door to meet her beaus (there seem to be three or four now) and play outside.
William has her own custom-designed nutcup (our friend Bob Heath let the RC make one during his open studios event last month) for shelled nuts, which she mostly consumes. She’ll stash the unshelled nuts, at least 80 percent of them anyway, around the backyard.
Fortunately, the holidays approach, so unshelled nuts are appearing in stores–walnuts, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, even Brazilnuts–so we’re trying to stock up. (I’ve discovered that it’s VERY difficult to find unshelled nuts outside of autumn).
That bloody squirrel can go through a one-pound bag of unshelled nuts in an hour or two. I’d intended to make a couple of pecan pies but as things are going now the pecans will never ever make it to the kitchen.
We’ll wind up with pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving, assuming William leaves enough for baking. So far I’m successfully hiding a few walnuts for the stuffing and wondering where I’m going to get enough to make Waldorf Salad. I may need to rename it William Salad and leave out the nutmeats.
Ooops. I meant Willow, not William. I’d better get used to calling William, Willow. She. The girrel squirrel.
* The Facebook squirrel rehab group quite helpfully posted several great illustrations of the anatomical differences between male and female gray squirrels. I must say once you’ve seen actual pictures, the differences** are unmistakable. And rather hard to forget.
**They can also, believe it or not, get you censored on Facebook. Apparently one helpful soul used the medical terms to explain what I should be looking for and was cited by Facebook authorities. It seems street slang is acceptable, Latin is not.