Sciurus niger

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Photograph by Deanna Young.

Squirrel_Sciurus_niger_600.jpg

Sciurus nigerfox squirrel. According to an article in the Times, his relative, the eastern gray squirrel, S. carolinensis, is considered an invasive species in Europe.

24 Comments

Sorry - one wrong click, and this pic didn’t show up on Monday noon. I am in deep trouble, as you can imagine.

Around here we have had a large population of fox squirrels for decades. They are quite large. Fifty or sixty years ago, one could see an occasional black squirrel, but they were rare. They are a little smaller than the local fox squirrel.

Today the black squirrel is common in my back yard; but more interesting is the fact that they and the fox squirrels have been interbreeding.

Right now, in my back yard there are a number of squirrels about the size of fox squirrels but they have features found in black squirrels as well. One particular funny looking one is black squirrel from the waist up and from the waist down it is a somewhat shaggy fox squirrel. It looks like a black squirrel that put on pants from a fox squirrel.

Another has alternating black and brown bands on its tail. Yet another has several alternating black and brown bands on its body. Still another has black and brown blotches somewhat in the pattern of a calico cat’s patterns.

Then there are the ones that look like fox squirrels but have black ears. Others look mostly black but have a brown tail or some other brown feature like two brown front legs.

There are still many black squirrels and fox squirrels, but the hybrids (if that is what they are) have some interesting features.

I would have thought the banding features would say something interesting about how they develop, but the other features that involve blotches and ears or feet seem to add a bit of confusion about how those hybrid features are expressed.

What do the evo-devo folks say about this?

I’ve always been fascinated by etymology, and had originally thought “squirrel” was a translation from indigenous American language but:

“The name squirrel comes from the Greek skiouros, which means shadow-tailed, because the tail is big enough to shade the rest of the animal.” – http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/young_na[…]s/index.html

There are still many black squirrels and fox squirrels, but the hybrids (if that is what they are) have some interesting features.

Can you get a picture?!

I’m fortunate enough to live in a part of the UK that retains its red squirrel population, so seeing grey squirrels is unusual. Nice picture.

Matt Young said:

There are still many black squirrels and fox squirrels, but the hybrids (if that is what they are) have some interesting features.

Can you get a picture?!

I have the cameras, a good set of lenses and the equipment. It’s just a matter of setting up and being there when the squirrels are. I’ll set out some extra bird seed on the ground where they forage under the bird feeders.

It may anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks; I have a busy schedule, but it’s flexible. My good cameras are Nikon F3s. They have served me well. I don’t have a good digital, so I’ll have to get digitals from the film. Not really a problem.

Scale is tough to grasp in this picture. Exactly how big is that pumpkin? This squirrel doesn’t look like the fox squirrels I’ve seen in the mountains of VA, maybe its a different species that I’m accustomed too. I’ll see if can maybe get a picture of one.

Why would you think that squirrel comes from native American?

We’ve had squirrels in Europe for a loooooooooooooooooong time.

Grey squirrels are considered “invasive” because they displace the red squirrel; the larger size of the grey means they tend to get more of the available food than the reds, resulting in the reds losing their ecological niche. This is certainly a problem in Britain.

There’s something incredibly endearing about squirrels, and it always cheers me up to see one (even an invasive grey!).

I just checked out from the library “Squirrels : the animal answer guide” / R. Thorington. Trying to learn more about the little critters in my little yard (in suburbs of Portland, OR). I’ve come to the conclusion that my guys are Eastern grays, a non-native, obviously, but very common here. From the descriptions I’ve read, fox squirrels are considerably smaller.

dave w: ‘cause I was a naive Canadian kid who didn’t know anything about species distribution.

Black squirrels can be a hard call. The fox squirrel’s scientific name, Sciurus niger actually means ‘black squirrel’; the type specimen (the sample against which all others are compared) was actually an abnormal black individual. So in fact black squirrels and fox squirrels interbreeding is probably nothing particularly exciting, as they’re almost certainly the same species.

However, the UBC campus is overrun by black squirrels that I have been told by mammalogists are in fact Eastern grey squirrels, not black fox squirrels. I specify UBC because it is the only place in Vancouver where black squirrels are particularly abundant (or at least this was the case four-five years ago).

Actually, this sort of variation within a species is not uncommon; the term ‘phase’ is applied to the different types, so the black squirrels at UBC are the black phase of the Eastern grey.

Meanwhile, I lived in Portland OR for eight years and never once saw a live native Western grey squirrel. They are comparatively shy animals, so not as readily seen in the first place, and furthermore easily displaced by the more aggressive Eastern grey. I was told that you would have to go out into the country to find them.

Hope this is helpful!

On the Eastern Shore of Maryland, we have the Delmarva Fox Squirrel. It is a light gray in color, and the locals call it the “gray” squirrel, and the Eastern Gray the “Fox” squirrel. (This is according to my mammalogy professor, who worked with fox squirrel recovery efforts.) I have seen them, and they are a lighter, more uniform gray than the Eastern Gray.

I had a black Eastern Gray at my bird feeder a few days ago. One of my professors thinks that in urban or suburban populations there is selection for this color phase due to its being much more visible against pavement than the gray color phase.

Opisthokont said:

(snip)

However, the UBC campus is overrun by black squirrels that I have been told by mammalogists are in fact Eastern grey squirrels, not black fox squirrels. I specify UBC because it is the only place in Vancouver where black squirrels are particularly abundant (or at least this was the case four-five years ago).(snip)

What are the particularly fearless ones in Stanley Park that run up your leg for a peanut?

Opisthokont said:

Black squirrels can be a hard call. The fox squirrel’s scientific name, Sciurus niger actually means ‘black squirrel’; the type specimen (the sample against which all others are compared) was actually an abnormal black individual. So in fact black squirrels and fox squirrels interbreeding is probably nothing particularly exciting, as they’re almost certainly the same species.

Thank you; that is indeed helpful.

But it does raise a question about how the black “phase” is perceived among members of this species, and whether or not it is a recessive trait that makes it appear rarer than it is.

The fact that around 50 to 60 years ago the black squirrel was rare around here and is now more common suggests some kind of rapprochement has occurred in the local community.

But the way that these mixtures of traits show up in the current population is interesting.

My camera is set up by the window, and I have already snapped a few pictures of one of the fox squirrels and the black with the brown tail. The others haven’t shown up yet.

My neighbor is away, so his bird feeder will run out in a couple of days. I think they like his food better; but I have some good stuff also.

In San Jose, CA, we have grayish/reddish squirrels which I think are (invasive) fox squirrels. In the last few years we have ocasionally been seeing black squirrels. I was not sure if they were a separate species moving in or what. Then one day I saw a small black squirrel nursing from a larger gray squirrel… (I have several very poor pictures on my cell phone camera…I’ll see if I can put them up somwhere.)

So is this like the infamous peppered moths? Are there more black squirrels because the tree bark is getting darker from pollution or something?

fnxtr said: What are the particularly fearless ones in Stanley Park that run up your leg for a peanut?

I was in Stanley Park looking at the totem poles when a raccoon wandered out of the brush and grabbed my pants leg, making Bambi eyes at me, all but saying “Where’s my peanut?”

Paul Burnett said:

So is this like the infamous peppered moths? Are there more black squirrels because the tree bark is getting darker from pollution or something?

Glue a few to a tree and take a picture.

Paul Burnett said:

fnxtr said: What are the particularly fearless ones in Stanley Park that run up your leg for a peanut?

I was in Stanley Park looking at the totem poles when a raccoon wandered out of the brush and grabbed my pants leg, making Bambi eyes at me, all but saying “Where’s my peanut?”

Yeah, even the urban raccoons are pretty fearless. You can’t just scare ‘em away with a broom. If they want to live in your attic, they’re gonna live in your attic. I’ve heard that they don’t like the smell of mothballs, though. (sits back and waits for the genitalia jokes)

Paul Burnett said:

So is this like the infamous peppered moths? Are there more black squirrels because the tree bark is getting darker from pollution or something?

I suspect that the general absence of predation has a lot to do with it. Where I live, the trees are introduced and the squirrels have discovered our introduced urban forests, but sadly the squirrel-consuming predators have not, at least not in numbers that could control the squirrel populations. Black squirrels are pretty visible, so I imagine that they might be selectively taken by predators.

David W said:

There’s something incredibly endearing about squirrels, and it always cheers me up to see one (even an invasive grey!).

Endearing? I used to think so. My yard is one of the few dog- and cat-free properties in my neighborhood, and the squirrels know it, or so it seems to me. For a long time, their antics were endearing. This year, however…well, they have stripped one apple tree almost entirely of its formerly heavy load of fruit. Pick the golf-ball sized fruit, take a bite, then drop it and take another.

I have three sour cherry trees, and have managed to collect exactly one 6-inch bowl’s worth of cherries…and have looked cherry-munching squirrels in the eye as I collected them.

Endearing? Well, no…that is not the word I would use this year.

I once lived in an old house in a large midwestern city.

There was a blocked off pipe outlet in the kitchen, where years ago, some kind of stove outlet or some such thing had gone to the outside. It was blocked off from the inside. It ran out to an alley beside the house that no-one spent time in. It was three stories up.

At one point, a foul odor began to be detectable in the kitchen.

The cause was discovered from the outside. It was a tragedy. A grey squirrel had been using the outlet, accessible from the outside. Unfortunately, as winter approached, the squirrel became chubbier, and one day got itself stuck firmly halfway through the entrance, where it perished, the rear half of its body observable from the alley, the front half already in, stiff as a board.

I was able to get it out of there (mercifully, in one piece) with a long ladder and a pair of tongs.

If it had been the kind of squirrel I grew up around it would have been small enough to get through http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Americ[…]Red_Squirrel

Lights on a timer (Or strobe, or a radio, etc.) seem to perturb attic racoons.

RE: Squirrels; There are lots of albino ones in Central Ohio, and there are black ones in Kent, Ohio (By the lakes). (My friend said they jumped from a Russian freighter in the ’70s. Possible, I guess.) Mostly they seem to be red squirrels.

The Wiki article on “Red Squirrel” (Sciurus vulgaris) seems to give a reasonable explanation on why the native species is failing to compete successfully against the invasive grey squirrel [Eastern grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)].

It’s been said over here (UK) that grey squirrels are rats with tails and good P.R.!

There was an item on Nanaimo campus radio‘s “not rocket science” program about how some eastern grey squirrels escaped (or were released) from captivity in Victoria (BC (Canada (that’s us up here))) back in the ‘60’s, and have since spread about 100 miles north. The researcher says they’re not sure yet about the impact on the indigenous(sp?) red population. At least these ones aren’t carrying a pox, which apparently the ones invading Europe do.

And The Heir Apparent says they’re good eatin’, I hear.

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on July 13, 2010 8:00 AM.

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