Going to the zoo is expensive, but watching UT's commonplace squirrels is free and extremely entertaining.

Their habits become more appealing when you know why they do what they do.

These cute tree inhibitors are formally known as Sciurus Carolinensis, or as they are informally called, the Eastern Gray Squirrel. This rodent is found in the Eastern part of the United States, hence the name. In the West, these exotic beasts just might be in the zoo.

Watching their acrobatic skills proves to be quite the free show. They are capable of jumping 20 feet while moving branch to branch – now, that's parkour. No need to fret though, most squirrels can fall up to 40 feet with only mild confusion upon landing. All of these tricks are made possible by the average 1.5 pounds they carry and their incredible tails.

The tail is an essential limb of a squirrel. They use it for balancing, parachuting, communicating and even as an umbrella.

When trying to decipher squirrel language, watch their tail. Faster twitches of the tail are a sign of agitation, and slower twitches can be warnings of danger. It is also hypothesized that more dominant squirrels hold their tails lower to show how relaxed they are while alert.

Remember to clap in awe when watching a squirrel scurry down a tree headfirst; they are the only mammal rodents that can descend a tree head-over-heels. This trick is possible due to their hind legs, which can rotate and grasp onto the tree trunk.

However, squirrels being head-over-heels for each other is unlikely due to their polygamous nature.

This polygamy is happening all around you; mating squirrels are in season. Usually when they chase each other around tree stumps, they are asserting dominance, but during late fall and spring this is typically a type of mating ritual.

I stopped to watch a scene like this play out while walking to class. I will refrain from details out of respect for the squirrels in mind, but I will admit my act of voyeurism made me late to class.

Another fun thing to do with squirrels is watch them bury their food.

As scatter-hoarders, squirrels collect all types of seeds, nuts, berries and even fungi. They will bury their food for hours or months in little burials called caches. Every squirrel is estimated to bury several thousands of different caches.

If they think they are being watched, they will pretend to bury their nut while secretly saving the food inside their mouth to bury elsewhere later. If they notice you watching them, look for a bulge in their cheeks.

Unfortunately, squirrels' biggest threat in Tennessee proves to be hawks and humans. I consider myself very unlucky to have seen a squirrel get picked up from the ground by a hawk and smashed into a tree branch for an immediate knockout.

As one of squirrel's biggest enemies, I urge driving slower. Squirrels freeze when they are nervous, so you have to give them time for their fear to melt before they execute a clean get away.

If you have a squirrel nest in your house, join the club and beware. They are capable of eating through bark, plastic, vinyl and sheet metal, and pest control Wildlife Solutions considers them responsible for dozens of house fires in the US every year.

However, this is no reason to send them to the grave. Wildlife animal control suggests trapping squirrels out. If you can find how they are getting in, simply cover up their entry so they cannot get back in.

You can also call Knoxville Wildlife Animal Control at (865)-329-7388; officers will catch your animals but not kill them.

Those interested in squirreling around should keep their eyes open during the two to three hours after dawn and dusk, when squirrels are most active.

If you're anything like me, you love to squirrel watch in the fall, and you don't have any money for the zoo. I hope you appreciate our spastic rodents and allow some of their productivity to rub off on you.

Julie Mrozinski is a junior in English. She can be reached at jmrozins@utk.edu.