Have you ever seen a black squirrel?
They really stand out when you see one if you are used to seeing red or gray squirrels.
I saw two black squirrels while walking up the driveway to my hotel last evening.
They are such cute little critters. The black squirrel is not a separate species of squirrel, but is a melanistic variety of the eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis).
The natural range of the eastern gray squirrel is the upper mid-west and eastern states and also the southern part of eastern Canada. However, their range has been expanding and they are now seen in a much larger part of the US.
OK, back to the black squirrels. Here is a closer look at the first one.
The pure black squirrels have two copies of a mutant pigment gene. There is also a black/brown variety that has one mutant copy and one normal copy of the gene.
The black variety of the eastern gray squirrel is thought by some to have been the dominant variety before the European settlement of North America. If this is the case, it may not have been a mutation, but just a recessive gene. The theory is that the black squirrels were able to better hide in the dense forests. As the forests were cleared out the advantage switched to the gray colored squirrels and the black squirrels were slowly weeded out.
This squirrel looks like it is of the black/brown variety.
The large populations of black squirrels are in Ontario and in the northern states of the eastern gray squirrel range. The black squirrel retains body heat better because of their coloring and also able to better hide in the more dense forests.
There are also isolated pockets of black squirrel populations in other areas of the US that have either been introduced or have been started by black squirrels who have escaped from zoos or traveling nature shows. Most of these populations are in urban areas with fewer natural predators.
When I get back home I want to check my Complete Audubon to see what is written about them from Audubon’s perspective. I know that there is a plate for black squirrels in Quadrupeds of America. I just can’t find the text on-line.
Do you have black squirrels where you live?