Saturday, October 8, 2011

Squirrel Facts: The Black Squirrel

The black squirrel is not a separate species but is a melanistic subgroup of the eastern gray squirrel. This means that an individual has an excessive amount of melanin, or dark pigmentation. Melanism is the opposite of albinism, or the absence of melanin.

Black or melanistic squirrels can exist anywhere that gray squirrels are found. However, they are generally more common in the northern areas of the eastern gray squirrel's range. This is because melanistic squirrels are better adapted to tolerate cold weather, as the black coloring of the fur helps them to better retain body heat.

There are certain regions where melanistic squirrels are particularly common. These include parts of the midwestern and northeastern United States, Quebec and Ontario in Canada, and some parts of Great Britain. There are also more localized populations of melanistic squirrels that are probably made up of the descendants of introduced individuals. These include colonies in Washington DC and northern Virginia; Kent, Ohio; Battle Creek and the Michigan State University campus in Michigan; Vancouver, BC; Fort Mitchell, KY; and the Quad Cities area along the Iowa-Illinois border.

The Black Squirrel is the mascot of the varsity athletic teams of Haverford College, which is near Philadelphia, PA. And Kent State University in Ohio has an annual Black Squirrel Festival every September. Sadly, this year's Black Squirrel Festival has already passed, but it's not too soon to start making plans for next year!

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