web analytics

Squirrel watching

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

 

When in middle school, we had open lunch period. That meant we could leave campus, venture outside and return for afternoon classes. I usually headed outside with a sandwich. Sometimes the break was spent with friends behind the school or, during other lunch periods, I quietly spent it with squirrels a block from school.

The school was in a city of 100,000 people where many nature niches provided for wild creature needs. Gray and Fox squirrels did well in people’s forested yards. Fox squirrels have reddish hairs mixed among their tail hairs and their bellies are reddish/orange giving them the name “Fox.” Gray squirrels have white bellies with gray hairs dominating their body and tails.

Recently, readers have provided squirrel images with white tails or white patches on the head. I suspect these are natural genetic variations. Black squirrels are less common than normal colored gray and fox squirrels. The black is a recessive genetic trait that requires a black hair color gene from each parent for it to be expressed in young.

In people brown eyes dominant over blue so if one parent provides a brown gene and the other a blue gene, the child’s eye color would be brown. A blue gene is required from both parents to have a blue-eyed child. A brown-eyed person often carries a hidden blue-eyed gene. Eye color inheritance is not as simple as stated above because there are many color and shade options that are inherited.

In squirrels the expressed hair color is simpler than eye color but has genetic variability. Black squirrels became common in the Traverse City area in part because gray squirrels were shot and black squirrels were allowed to reproduce. A squirrel parent can produce both gray and black phase young in the same litter. It is much like a person having children with different hair color. An abundance of black recessive genes in that population allowed the black phase gray squirrels to become common because gray genes were deliberately removed from the population.

Black squirrels have become increasing common in our area. I am not sure why. Black phase is more common among gray squirrels than it is in Fox squirrels but they also have a black phase. Black fox squirrels are more frequent in the southern United States than in Michigan. Again I am not sure why. Perhaps some scientists have addressed the question but I have not encountered explanations.

I have enjoyed squirrels and have been frustrated with how much birdseed they eat. The numbers of squirrels in yards sometimes seems endless. When I lived in Minnesota, a neighbor and his son shot 24 squirrels in their yard during one day. Across the street from our homes was a cemetery with an oak forest. The cemetery provided adequate food, water, shelter, and appropriate living space for squirrels. The squirrels found it easy to visit the neighbor’s feeders for food. They also probably ate many bird eggs. Too many individuals of any species create ecosystem problems.

My fascination with squirrels and their behavior began when I was in junior high during quiet lunch periods watching them busily go about squirrel business in yards that people thought were human yards. Like humans, squirrels stake claims on territories. They do not recognize our property lines but set up their own according to the amount of space necessary to meet survival needs.

Encourage children to spend time observing, connecting, and understanding wild creatures in “our yards.”

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433. 616-696-1753.

 

This post was written by:

- who has written 17572 posts on Cedar Springs Post Newspaper.


Contact the author

Comments are closed.

advert
Watson Rockford
Advertising Rates Brochure
Cedar Car Co
Dewys Manufacturing
Ray Winnie
Kent County Credit Union

Archives

Get Your Copy of The Cedar Springs Post for just $40 a year!