Squirrels vs. Rats: Similarities and Differences

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The days of quarantine are pushing sane humans towards the brink of insanity. You need only peer outside your window to see squirrels scampering about in the beautiful summer sun with no humans around to disrupt their play.

If you happen to stay up at night you might just catch a glimpse of a rat scurrying to safety.

If you are jealous of the freedom of these unsuspecting rodents, then read on to know interesting facts about squirrels vs. rats to keep the boredom and insanity away.

We will tell you which squirrel looks like it fell into a vat of purple paint and about the squirrel which can survive the dangerous cold of the arctic winter. 

Squirrel vs. Rat

Squirrels and rats are rodents. They are extremely clever animals. A rat can navigate any path and remember it for the rest of its life. So, the next time someone calls you ratty, take it as a compliment for your exemplary special mapping skills. It is also very useful in the study of human diseases because their genetic and behavioral characteristics closely resemble a human’s characteristics. 

squirrels vs. rats

Squirrels are very intelligent, aside from being heart-stealing cute thieves. They have remarkable memories. Which makes sense because you wouldn’t want to forget where you hid all the nuts you spent all day collecting. 

Difference between Squirrels and Rats

comparison of squirrels and rats


You can easily identify a rat with its scaly, hairless tail and ling pointed snout. The squirrels look like the cousin of the rat which inherited all the good-looking genes in the family with its smaller, rounder snout and soft bushy tail. 

They are ‘gnawing mammals’. They like to gnaw through hard substances. This is because they have 4 long incisors (a pair each on the upper and lower jaws) that keep growing continuously. If the teeth grow too long, they can pierce the skull. To make sure that they don’t grow uncontrollably long, these rodents gnaw hard substances like wood or even metal to file their teeth.

Rats and squirrels come in many colors. You can choose your pick from brown, black, albino, grey or a reddish hue. But to make things more interesting, God created some anomalies. Like the giant Indian squirrel which looks like it fell in a vat of blue paint and then had the misfortune of falling into a vat of flashy pink paint. It is really difficult to come to terms with the fact that this giant, fashionable technicolor creature that looks like it is ready to dance in any club is a squirrel! But I am very glad to have learned about its existence. These squirrels also beat all other competitors when it comes to size. Read on to know how large this squirrel can grow!

Squirrels come in a variety of sizes. The tiniest squirrel, the African pygmy squirrel is nearly 3 to 5 inches long and weighs 10 grams. The largest squirrel, the giant Indian squirrel is nearly 3 feet in length and can weigh nearly a kilogram. Rats, on the other hand, range in size from the 5 inches long Osgood’s Vietnamese rat to the nearly 2 and a half feet long Northern Luzon giant cloud rat. To put things in perspective, it is larger than your cat. This is one rat your cat will never mess with. 

Some squirrels are linked to history and mythology. Like the Indian palm squirrels, which have stripes across their backs. According to Indian mythology, the squirrels got stripes because the Hindu God Rama stroked their back in gratitude for their help in building a bridge. Well, I would like to believe in that myth!


Rats and squirrels are omnivorous animals. In the wild, they prefer berries, nuts, grains, and fruits. Squirrels also eat fungi like mushrooms and lichen. In the absence of other food sources, they might even eat eggs and nestlings of birds.

Rats exist on the periphery of human civilization. So, this means that their food habits have adapted to help them live near humans. Rats will eat nearly anything found near humans, including garbage. But given the choice, they prefer grains, nuts, and fruits, which is what rats in the wild eat.

Rats and squirrels are hoarders. Which means they gather more food than they need and store it near their nests so they could eat it in the future. This is especially true during the fall season when they hide food in strategic places so that they can have easy access to food during the winter.


Rats and squirrels live on every continent but Antarctica. They can live in a wide variety of climates. Especially rats, which can survive in typically any place that a human can live. Rats have been known to be stowaways on ships. Once they reach land, they adapt and make sure the land is overtaken by the sudden growth of the rat population. 

Squirrels typically don’t barge into human residences. They live on trees or the ground. Tree squirrels build nests inside tree holes and crevices whereas the ground squirrels burrow tunnels into the ground. They are diurnal creatures, meaning that they are active during the daytime and night time. 

Rats, on the other hand, are mostly human-centric. They live in attics, drains, dumps, barns, attics, and basements and wreak havoc on your belongings. They have been marked as a pest by humans for centuries as they ruin the home and also carry a lot of diseases that affect the human populace. They thrive so successfully in the midst of humans because they are nocturnal animals and only come out at night when human activity is less. 

While most squirrels and rats become less active during wintertime, they don’t usually hibernate as they are homeotherms. They can regulate their body temperature irrespective of the environment in which they live. The exception is the arctic ground squirrel which hibernates for nearly 8 months to survive the bitter arctic winter. To survive the winter the squirrel lets the core body temperature drop below -2 degree Celsius. The brain gets lesser blood flow and the synapses in the brain lose connection. Once the winter gets over, the squirrels shiver back to life and walk of their burrows pretending that they didn’t just go through a miracle recovery. 

When you are this small, you need to watch out for your enemies constantly. They have eyes on both sides of their head to help them gauge their surroundings more efficiently. Rats and squirrels have common predators. They are on the constant lookout for their natural predators- birds of prey (like hawks and owls), snakes, dogs, foxes, and weasels. Once they spot these predators, they can camouflage themselves using their background or they can run extremely fast and hide in a tiny hole that the predator can’t reach. In extreme danger, they can defend themselves using claws and their sharp teeth or they can swim to their safety. 


The world is not a friendly place for such tiny creatures. When left to survive by themselves, a majority of squirrels don’t last more than 2 years. If luck is in their favor, they may last nearly 8 years. But in captivity, squirrels can live for 24 years. But here’s the bad news, even though you might really want to keep these adorable creatures as pets, it is not possible to tame a squirrel enough to make it a pet. 

Compared to the lifespan of the squirrel, the lifespan of a rat is surprisingly small. Rats usually live for 2 years if they are lucky. But a healthy rat in captivity can live for 4 years.

Final Words

There you go, now you know that squirrels are rats are related. We hope this article helped you ward off your boredom and hold on to your sanity during the quarantine. You will now see squirrels and rats in a new light when you see them out in the open while you’re trapped in your house. And we hope you never come across the Northern Luzon giant cloud rat. 

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