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Do Squirrels Have Thumbs? (How They Use Thumbs & Paws)

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Squirrels have four digits and a small thumb on each front paw. They use their thumbs to hold food and climb trees. Their thumbs are not opposable.

While most animals eat food off the floor, squirrels take on an almost human quality when they hold their food with their paws to eat. 

Does this mean that squirrels have thumbs that work like ours do? 

In the following article, we answer this question and take a closer look at how squirrels use their paws. 

Do Squirrels Have Thumbs? 

Yes, squirrels have thumbs. They have four fingers and a thumb on each front paw. Their thumbs are vestigial thumbs, meaning they are only partially developed.

Tree squirrels, like red squirrels, have four fingers with sharp claws and a vestigial thumb on each front paw. They have five toes on each back paw with sharp claws. [1] 

Their double-jointed ankles allow them to go down a tree headfirst.

Do Squirrels Have Opposable Thumbs? 

No, squirrels do not have opposable thumbs as we do. Although squirrels’ thumbs can be used to manipulate objects, they are too small to oppose their other digits around an object.[2]

Squirrels have vestigial thumbs.[3] This means the thumbs are small, but it doesn’t mean they are useless. Squirrels use their clawed thumbs to help them hold food and climb trees.

Do Squirrels Have Opposable Thumbs

What In An Opposable Thumb? 

The definition of an opposable thumb is a thumb that can be placed opposite the fingers of the same hand. It allows us to handle objects.[4]

Humans have opposable thumbs as do primates, like chimpanzees and gorillas. 

How Squirrels Use Their Paws 

Squirrels use their paws to climb trees, run, dig, forage for food and eat. 

How Squirrels Use Their Paws To Climb 

Tree squirrels are excellent climbers. It helps that their hind legs have double-jointed ankles. This allows them to descend a tree head first. 

The double-jointed ankles allow a squirrel to swivel round at the ankle and hang from an almost vertical surface, like a tree, when its claws hooked into the surface.[2] 

Tree squirrels also have a long middle digit that helps them climb trees.[5] 

How Squirrels Use Their Paws To Eat 

Unlike many animals that eat food off the ground, squirrels pick up food with their paws to eat. This could explain why it’s sometimes mistakenly assumed that squirrels have opposable thumbs. 

The politely delicate way they hold their food is a characteristic that endures these creatures to us. It humanizes these wild creatures and makes them more relatable. 

How Squirrels Use Their Paws To Eat

How Squirrels Use Their Paws To Forage For Food   

Science has found another relatable attribute surrounding squirrels’ paws. A study by the University of Exeter has found that some squirrels have a dominant paw and others are  ambidextrous as observed when foraging for food.  

The researchers set up nuts in tubes that the squirrels could access with their mouths. Later the nuts were pushed deeper into the tunnel to force the squirrels to use their paws. 

Some squirrels used a certain paw, showing right or left paw dominance, while some used both paws, showing ambidextrous functioning. 

The researchers found that ambidextrous squirrels performed better in set learning tasks than squirrels that show a predominant preference for a right or left paw.. [6]  

Do Squirrels Have Claws? 

Yes, squirrels have sharp claws to help them climb and grip trees or dig. 

Squirrels are born hairless and with closed eyes, but they are born with developed claws.[7]

The sharp claws on tree squirrels and flying squirrels’ paws help them grip the bark of trees so they can climb.[8] Ground squirrels use their claws to dig their underground burrows. 

Squirrels’ claws are sharp and can hurt people. Some people who own squirrels as pets admit to trimming their pet squirrels’ claws so that they don’t hurt people or damage furniture.[9] 

There is still much to learn about squirrels’ claws and how they use them.

Do Squirrels Have Claws

Do Squirrels Have Retractable Claws? 

Squirrels have semi-retractable claws. They are not fully retractable. One researcher has found that they can retract their claws using ligaments in their toes. 

Richard Thorington, author of Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide (Johns Hopkins University Press), has studied squirrels for over 25 years. One of his observations points to squirrels being able to retract their claws. 

He says squirrels use ligaments in the toes to pull up their claws when running in the grass. 

Thorington is still studying squirrels’ claws to see if they can rapidly retract their claws when climbing trees. [10] 

FAQs

How Many Fingers Do Squirrels Have? 

Squirrels have four digits, or fingers, and one thumb on each front paw. They have five digits, or toes, on their back paws. 

Do Squirrels Have Claws? 

Yes, squirrels have claws on the digits of their paws. Tree squirrels use their sharp claws to help them climb trees. Ground squirrels use their claws to help them dig burrows.  

Do Squirrels Have Sharp Claws?

Yes, squirrels’ claws are sharp so they can grip when climbing trees and dig into the ground when burying nuts, like tree squirrels, or when digging burrows, like ground squirrels. 

How Many Claws Does a Squirrel Have?

In total, squirrels have 20 sharp claws –  five claws on each front paw and five claws on each back paw. Squirrels have sharp claws on each of the four digits and one thumb on each front paw. They have claws on each of the five digits, or toes, on their back paws. 

How Many Toes Does a Squirrel Have? 

Squirrels have five digits or ‘toes’ on each back paw. 

About Monique Warner

Monique is an avid dog lover who grew up with dogs, cats, and budgies as pets. She has worked as a pet sitter and dog walker. With her passion for dogs and pets alike, she writes articles with the intention of helping pet owners solve their biggest struggles.

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