Black is the New Red or Gray

Health Editor’s Note: Fox (red), black, gray squirrels are fun to live around if you have created a squirrel proof bird feeder.  Not easy to do, but possible. We used to live in the world of fox squirrels.  A move, just about three and a half hours away, puts us in a world of black and gray squirrels. I have only seen a couple of red ones in the past several months.  We liked living in the world of the fox squirrel. They would patiently, for the most part, wait for the birds to drop seeds to the ground.  We now live in a totally other squirrel world. Gray and black squirrels are relentless when attacking bird feeders….acrobatic beyond measure, diligent, intent, etc. You will be given the advice that a squirrel can jump only four feet, thus you incorporate that measurement into your bird feeder alterations.  Scratch that….they can go an easy six feet or more. Especially the black and gray ones. Anyway, while the black squirrel is a genetic aberration of the fox squirrel, it has gained agility beyond that of the fox. We now share our outdoor world with new faces that we have come to enjoy….now that their ability to raid a sun flower feeder, while hanging upside down, and empty it in 10 minutes flat has been stopped….Points for the humans on this one……Carol   

Interspecies Breeding Is Responsible for Some Squirrels’ Black Coloring

by Meilan Solly

Despite differences in coloring, eastern gray squirrels and so-called black squirrels are actually members of the same species. A new study published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology explains, squirrels sporting black coats owe their distinctive appearance to interbreeding between gray and fox squirrels, which carry a faulty pigment gene known to give some members of the predominantly reddish-brown species darker fur. This gene variant, passed from fox to gray squirrels via mating, is the same mutation responsible for black squirrels’ coloring.

“People have spotted ‘mixed species’ mating chases, with a mix of grey and fox squirrels [pursuing] a female,” lead author Helen McRobie of England’s Anglia Ruskin University says in a press release. “The most likely explanation for the black version of the gene being found in the grey squirrel is that a male black fox squirrel mated with a female grey squirrel.”

To determine the origins of squirrel melanism, or dark coloration, McRobie and colleagues from Cambridge University and the Virginia Museum of Natural History extracted DNA from gray and fox squirrel specimens found in North America.

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