Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Ed Kroc sent some photos showing color variants of the eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). Sadly, I lost his email, but the photos came with descriptions. A species showing variation like this, if it’s sufficiently common and pretty discrete, is called polymorphic (Greek for “many forms”). Humans, for instance, are polymorphic for hair and eye color.

Black Gray Squirrel, British Columbia [blackness is the result of a dominant allele that can produce even blacker squirrels if they get two copies; see here]:

black-grey-squirrel-bc

Gray gray squirrel, British Columbia:

grey-grey-squirrel-il

Orange gray squirrel, Illinois:

orange-grey-squirrel-il

Toasty gray squirrel #1, British Columbia [JAC: this individual may have one copy of the black gene as opposed to the first squirrel above]:

toasty-grey-squirrel-bc1

Toasty gray squirrel #2, British Columbia:

toasty-grey-squirrel-bc2

21 Comments

  1. Terry Sheldon
    Posted January 27, 2017 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    I’m no biologist (I don’t even play one on TV) but isn’t the “orange gray squirrel” actually an eastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger)? Also, the black squirrels remind me of my undergraduate days at Syracuse, where many black squirrels inhabited the campus and an adjacent wooded cemetary.

    • Posted January 27, 2017 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I think you’re right! Thanks for the correction!

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted January 31, 2017 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      I’m no biologist (I don’t even play one on TV) but isn’t the “orange gray squirrel”

      …flailing around in the White House, creating havoc in everything he touches with his unfeasibly small hands?

  2. George
    Posted January 27, 2017 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    I saw Black Gray Squirrels for the first time last October at the Rolling Meadows Court House outside of Chicago. I was serving as an election judge there during early voting. I saw quite a few of them regularly just outside the parking structure. There is a wooded area just to the west of it, separating it from the surrounding residential areas. I spoke to some of the sheriff’s deputies who have worked there for over 20 years and they said there always has been a population of black squirrels there. Good habitat, protected – they have thrived. I tried to take some pictures but could not get close enough.

    While on the subject of elections – those who scream fraud are essentially accusing people like me of committing a felony. I do this out of a sense of civic responsibility – so screw you. Before you scream fraud, try learning how the election process actually works.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted January 27, 2017 at 8:18 am | Permalink

      I was just going to say when I started to read your comment that maybe those squirrels were among the millions of fraudulent voters in the last election!
      But it would be more likely they would have voted for the nut…

  3. Posted January 27, 2017 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    I’ve seen many of these walking around the Michigan State campus in Lansing Michigan. Interesting post!

  4. Adrian
    Posted January 27, 2017 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    I understood from Vancouver people that the Black Grey Squirrel was introduced there by someone who thought they looked good. Is this true?

    • Posted January 27, 2017 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      They are not native to the west coast of N America.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_gray_squirrel#/media/File:Sciurus_carolinensis_range_map.svg

    • Posted January 27, 2017 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      Yes, they were introduced in the first half of the 20th Century and have since spread all across the Vancouver area. They’ve pushed out our native Douglas Squirrel from most regions, although you’ll still see both species mingling in some places (like Stanley Park in Vancouver). I don’t think the Eastern Grey Squirrel has expanded beyond the Lower Mainland though.

      • Anna
        Posted January 27, 2017 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

        We have lots of them on Vancouver Island, mostly the black form.

  5. Posted January 27, 2017 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Nice photos!

    We have black squirrels around here a lot. They were even more common a couple of years ago.

    Two years ago, in addition to the large numbers of normally colored grey squirrels and the small population of black ones, we had an albino too. Quite the range of coloration!

    The albino didn’t last long, as far as we can tell; but it did reach full size and appeared to be independent.

    I say it was an albino because its coat was pure white. I was never close enough to observe eye color, etc.

  6. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted January 27, 2017 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Excellent pictures!
    My impression, which is mine, is that the black sqrrls are seen in locally concentrated populations.

  7. Richard Jones
    Posted January 27, 2017 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    All the squirrels around here (Sudbury, Ontario) are black. I have seen one red on out window sill but only aw him once.

  8. ladyatheist
    Posted January 27, 2017 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    I have an unfortunately rather poor photo of a squirrel I saw in my backyard with the piebald gene. In dogs this variant is called “merle” so I prefer to call my visitor a merle squerle.

  9. Heather Hastie
    Posted January 27, 2017 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    I didn’t know that there were ginger squirrels! These gingers turn up everywhere. 🙂

  10. Mark R.
    Posted January 27, 2017 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Thanks for these interesting color variants. The toasty is my favorite. And they all look plump and healthy.

    • Posted January 27, 2017 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      I second all of that!
      Thanks to all the photographers who have been sharing their lovely work here.

  11. darrelle
    Posted January 27, 2017 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Love the squirrel pics, especially the Orange Grey.

    I’ve seen black squirrels in the Hendersonville NC area. Where I live currently we have only grey squirrels. A couple of them like to tease our cat as she looks out the side-lite of our front door. She gets very amped up about it.

  12. rickflick
    Posted January 27, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    The mixed black phase looks like it would be adaptive camouflage for squirrels living in sooty environments – like coal mining towns, industrial smoke stacks, etc. I wonder if this combination could become stable in such an environment.

    • Posted January 27, 2017 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      I wonder if the black morph is so prevalent here in the Vancouver area because it provides the best camouflage in the dense, dark pine and evergreen forests. In Illinois, the classic “grey” colouring blends in perfectly with the oak and elm groves, especially in the winter months. Here though, their habitat is always dark, heavily shaded by lots of evergreen growth. The black colouring seems like it would be highly adaptive in that setting.

  13. Diana MacPherson
    Posted January 27, 2017 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    I love the variation in colour of the grey squirrels. I’ve even seen ones that are almost half black and half grey.

    polymorphous is a nice way to explain the alpha primitive as amorphous means “without shape” which also meant “ugly” to the Ancient Greeks.


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