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.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Black Squirrel History & Facts

We have lots of squirrels. I think I remember the black ones coming to the yard regularly in the 1980’s. Today I saw my first “gray” Gray Squirrel. If he mates with a black phase Gray Squirrel what color will the babies be this spring? Lansing, MI

The black squirrel, a melanistic subgroup of the of the common gray squirrel, is found all over the Michigan State University campus, and the surrounding areas. 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.

The black-coated squirrels occur more in the northern US and Canada. Their color varies from gray with a reddish cast to their coat, to dark brown, to black, or any combination of the above. Studies have shown that black squirrels have 18% lower heat loss than light colored gray squirrels allowing them to withstand harsh winters.

The gene for the black coat is recessive. If a black-coated and gray-coated Eastern Gray Squirrels mate, the offspring can be either gray or black depending on their genes. It takes getting that recessive gene from both parents for the fur to be black. If either gene is the dominant gray gene, the fur will be gray. So I guess you’ll just have to wait and see whose fresh face shows up at the feeder in the next few weeks. And make sure to send baby pictures! Now I’m curious.

The State News FACT or FICTION? by Amy Davis
University of Michigan Museum of Zoology


deens said...

I have seen several black squirrels with white stripes near MSU campus, in a residential area. They almost look like skunks, but they are squirrels. What causes this and how common is it?

Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan said...

It's very common in our area. I have a black squirrel in my backyard that has white ears, feet and belly. I've also seen brown and black patchwork squirrels. It's fun in the spring to see babies with new combinations.

Anonymous said...

Did you not read the article?