Posts Tagged ‘melanistic gray squirrel’

Milling about on the lawn were both common phases of the Eastern gray squirrel.







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This week we had several visitors on the trail cameras. Keep in mind that one of these cameras has a messed up clock, so the time stamp reads that the video was taken in 2068. These cameras are pretty good technology, but they aren’t that good!

Let’s start small.  Here’s a white-footed mouse or a deer mouse:


I can’t tell whether it is a white-footed mouse or a deer mouse, which is hard enough to do in the broad daylight. These animals are in the genus Peromyscus, and although we call them mice, they aren’t closely related to the mice that originated in Old World.  New World rats and mice are more closely related to voles, hamsters, and lemmings than to house mice and Norway rats.

Then we got a light-colored opossum:


A good close-up of a melanistic gray squirrel:


And a large raccoon:


Because of the size of the raccoon, I am assuming that this one was a male. He was coming to inspect a pile of sticks and logs that I have anointed with weasel lure.




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I got a better photo of a black squirrel on the trail camera this week.


Melanism in Eastern gray squirrels does have some advantage in heavily forested environments. I have a lot harder time seeing the black ones against tree trunks and branches, especially if the leaves are on.

However, if one of these squirrels runs out in the open, it is obvious to every hawk that might be staking out the area.


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Miley treed a black squirrel (melanistic gray squirrel) today, but he was moving too fast from tree to tree for me to get a photo of him.

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I came across this little melanistic gray squirrel today, and naive as he is, he just sat there on that white oak branch and let me take a few photos and a few seconds of video of him.


In this particular stretch of woods there are black variants and normal gray variants, but they come in more color variants than I can describe here.

Eastern gray squirrels have two litters per year. This one was born in the late winter winter litter.  Its mother is likely already pregnant with her midsummer litter which will be born some time next month.

As I mentioned, I did get a little bit of video of this squirrel before he darted off:


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As someone who has seen dozens of melanistic gray squirrels, I can say that this is one of them.

It is not unusual to find melanistic individuals with gray or brown banding on their hairs.

I have seen these black squirrels with red tails– and they definitely were not fox squirrels.   The tail was pure golden red like a golden retriever, not sabled like a collie, which indicative of a northern fox squirrel.


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Our mystery squirrel is one of those strange creatures.

Everything about it is counterintuitive.

I remember being taught that the best way to tell the difference between fox and Eastern gray squirrels is that gray squirrel have white banding on their tails that makes them look gray. Fox squirrels– at least those in West Virginia and the northern and central parts of their range– tend to have orange-gold banding on the hairs of their tails. Their tails are usually much fuller than those of the gray squirrels, and they are usually at least 25 percent larger.

Of course, all of that applies for normal phases of gray squirrel.

Eastern gray squirrels are a bit like red foxes, American black bears, and gray wolves. Not all individuals are the color that their names would indicate.

Eastern gray squirrels come in three distinct phases: normal gray, melanistic (black), and albino. I’ve seen variations on all of these colors. I have heard of normal grays with solid white tails, and I knew a very light-colored normal gray squirrel in Buckhannon, West Virginia.  It was almost the color of a Siamese cat.

It is not unusual for gray squirrels to have a red tinge to their coats. This is particularly true for melanistic individuals. (Another one here).

Our mystery squirrel is one of these melanistic Eastern gray squirrels that has a lot of red coloration on its tail.   Such squirrels are not incredibly common, but when one turns up, people think they are looking at fox squirrel or perhaps some new species that has not yet been documented.

The first melanistic gray squirrel I ever saw had a red tail, and it looked very similar to this one.  Most of the melanistic ones I’ve seen since have been solid black or had only a slight reddishness to them.

It is certainly true that fox squirrels vary in coloration, and there are solid black fox squirrels (which is why their scientific name is Sciurus niger). Where I live, it is nearly impossible to mistake a fox squirrel for a gray, because fox squirrels come in only the orange-tailed and agouti coloration. Gray squirrels are come in gray and black. The fact that the fox squirrels are so much larger means that it is so hard to mistake the two species.

However, if you have just a photo of a squirrel with no size reference, the best way to tell them apart is look at their heads.

Fox squirrels have longer heads than grays do.  They have an almost Roman-nosed appearance (Look at the head. Ignore the color.)

Eastern grays are shorted headed. They have more delicate and “cuter” features than fox squirrels do.

Of course, I’ve seen so many different fox and Eastern gray squirrels that I can tell them apart very easily.

In the real world, the size difference alone is all one needs to tell them apart.

In photos, just look at the head.

It is amazing how much these two very common squirrels vary in appearance.

Gray squirrels are not always gray, just as black bears are not always black.

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Most of the melanistic grays I’ve seen have this reddish tinge to their coats.

As I’ve mentioned before, about a third of the grays around here are black. This one is in Canada.

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