About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Introduction of the black squirrel

Michigan State University's park-like campus of 5,000 acres is an excellent habitat for squirrels.

The black squirrel, which is actually a color variation of the common gray squirrel, is found all over campus, and may cause double-takes from visitors who aren't used to seeing them. However, few people know the true story of how such a large population of black squirrels came to live in East Lansing.

Joe Johnson, chief wildlife biologist at MSU's Kellogg Biological Station, admits to having transferred some of the critters. He caught 20 black squirrels and relocated them onto campus in the early 1960s at the request of MSU President John A. Hannah.

"President Hannah said that he wanted two things," Johnson said. "He wanted Canadian geese on the Red Cedar River and black squirrels on campus. I guess he thought the squirrels were really unique." The black squirrel is actually native to Michigan, but was almost wiped out when they were over hunted.

"Gray squirrels are a unique beauty that can live with us because they are very adaptable animals," Johnson said, explaining how the tree dwellers were able to flourish in East Lansing and beyond. Their color varies from gray with a reddish cast to their coat, to dark brown, to black, or any combination of the above.

The black-coated squirrels occur more in the northern US and Canada. Studies have shown that black squirrels have 18% lower heat loss than light colored gray squirrels allowing them to withstand harsh winters.

Sources: The State News FACT or FICTION? by Amy Davis
and University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.


E. said...

Very interesting! I didn't realize they were both native and "introduced" in that way.

xandargran said...

But isn't the correct term Canada geese?

Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan said...

Joe Johnson did call the Canada Goose, Canadian. I think that's pretty common for people to call them that nickname in mid-Michigan. It was a quote so I didn't change it.