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Posts Tagged ‘red squirrel’

Eurasian red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris). Source for image.

Eurasian red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris). Source for image.

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Remember these two squirrels?

On a previous post, I said that these animals were hybrids between Eurasian red squirrels and North American Eastern gray squirrels, which are an introduced species in the United Kingdom.

I said that the squirrel in the top photo had been a confirmed hybrid, and because the other squirrel happened to be black, it was suggested that it was a hybrid between a melanistic gray squirrel and red squirrel.

Well, I was pulling your leg.

I’ve had one person check out the Wikipedia page on red squirrels and inform me that the gray one was actually a Eurasian red squirrel in its winter pelt. ¬†Though becoming rarer in the British Isles, red squirrels are still quite wide-ranging animals, and they vary greatly in color throughout their range and throughout the year.

The black squirrel isn’t even a gray squirrel or a red squirrel.

It is a melanistic Abert’s squirrel (Sciurus aberti), which is a species native to the southern Rockies.

Long-time readers know that I’m somewhat prone to pulling pranks.

And I like to keep you on your toes…

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eastern-gray-squirrel

The story can be found here.

And before everyone attacks me for making a West Virginia reference, I was born and raised in West Virginia. And yes, I have eaten gray squirrel before. The meat is better than described in the piece, because all the squirrels I’ve eaten were largely consuming hickory nuts.

The red squirrel is a European species of tassel-eared squirrel. It is not resistant to parapoxviruses, but grays are. The grays are thought to carry these viruses and transmit them to the reds, which is one reason why the Brits want to kill them. Further, grays chip bark far worse than reds. This damages British hardwoods, which aren’t as adapted for intense bark-chipping as North American hardwoods are.

I don’t know whether this is true or not, but I have always heard that gray squirrels kill North American red squirrels, which are different species entirely from the European red. I’ve heard that the grays raid their nests, and castrate the male North American reds. I wonder if this same thing might be going on with the war between European reds and Eastern grays. (The North American red is in the genus Tamiascriurus, while the European red and the gray squirell are both in the genus Sciurus.)

Grays are much more adaptable than European reds, so they can live in much closer proximity to man. They can also withstand the felling of the forests better. All of these events have allowed the gray squirrel to thrive with man in several continents, including South Africa.

So to stop the red squirrel plague, British landowners and game keepers are developing a taste for hillbilly food. It’s likely that the status of squirrel meat will increase, especially if it now considered “green” to eat them. I expect that it will be served in all the finest restaurants in Europe, and then, it will eventually catch on here. And to think, the hillbilies have been eating them for centuries, and for the last hundred years, have been derided for it.

Talk about irony.

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