In some places a debate rages over the question of who works the hardest, men or women. In our family, there is no such disagreement. We all recognize that the typical woman works far more than her male counterpart.
Take my case. I’m a Type A workaholic who lost (unused) leave every year of my military career. I still keep extremely busy, but when it comes to work ethic and effort, I don’t even pretend to hold a candle to my wife.
Now another example from the animal kingdom has confirmed what most people have suspected—females do far more than their share of the work.
Men have been embarrassed for generations by the example of lazy lions who rely on the lionesses to do nearly all of the hunting. Not to mention taking care of the family’s domestic responsibilities.
And now men have been betrayed by a more modest mammal—the squirrel.
I happen to like squirrels. I always have, even when they try to hijack the birdseed we always have available at our home. I hate hearing people refer to them as “tree rats,” and considered it good fortune that the street where we built our home is named “Squirrel Place.”
C.S. Lewis loved small animals. Reepicheep, a mouse, is one of the great heroes of Narnia. But it was a squirrel who played a role in one of his earliest “mystical” experiences. Fittingly, it also relates to Autumn, the season those of us in the Northern Hemisphere currently enjoy.
The following passage comes from Lewis’ autobiography, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. It describes the impression left on him after reading one of Beatrix Potter’s children’s books.
It will be clear that at this time—at the age of six, seven, and eight—I was living almost entirely in my imagination; or at least that the imaginative experience of those years now seems to me more important than anything else. . . .
But imagination is a vague word and I must make some distinctions. It may mean the world of reverie, daydream, wish-fulfilling fantasy. . . .
The . . . glimpse came through Squirrel Nutkin; through it only, though I loved all the Beatrix Potter books. But the rest of them were merely entertaining; it administered the shock, it was a trouble. It troubled me with what I can only describe as the Idea of Autumn.
It sounds fantastic to say that one can be enamored of a season, but that is something like what happened; and, as before, the experience was one of intense desire. And one went back to the book, not to gratify the desire (that was impossible— how can one possess Autumn?) but to reawake it.
And in this experience also there was the same surprise and the same sense of incalculable importance. It was something quite different from ordinary life and even from ordinary pleasure; something, as they would now say, “in another dimension.”
Returning to the recent research that proved beyond any shadow of doubt that even among industrious, nut-gathering rodents, the males cop out. Don’t be put off by the study’s title—“The secret life of ground squirrels: accelerometry reveals sex-dependent plasticity in above-ground activity”—this is serious.
Apparently, while mom is down in a dark burrow nursing the kids, dad’s out lounging in the sunshine. It’s inexcusable.
And don’t try to use some lame excuse or misogynist argument that these findings are only true for Urocitellus parryii, semi-fossorial arctic ground squirrels, but they’re only fooling themselves. We all know that women work harder than men, especially when it comes to raising kids.
The female squirrels are literally so drained by the demands put upon them that they have to begin their hibernations before the males and end them after the males emerge from their hibernacula!
Following the termination of heterothermy in spring, male arctic ground squirrels remain below ground for a three to five week interval during which they consume a food cache to regain body mass lost during hibernation . . . Males intercept and mate-guard newly emergent females that become pregnant within a few days of emergence; gestation lasts for approximately 25 days, and lactation is another approximately 28–35 days.
Unlike males, females do not cache food and, with the exception of early gestation when they continue to lose body fat, they appear to fuel their reproduction using energy gained concurrently through foraging. [Note: it doesn’t appear the males share. Another strike against them.]
In addition, females are delivering energy to pups as milk during lactation . . . Once their young have been weaned, females undergo a moult and fatten; autumn immergence occurs in August [while] males that fatten and cache food later in the autumn immerge in early- to mid-October.
And there is no doubt that the people who conducted this research are right, after all, they used “collar-mounted light loggers and triaxial accelerometers!”