Most American Squirrels Used to be Black

Black squirrels aren’t common anymore in the U.S., but you may still see them if you’re lucky! Believe it or not, there was a time that most squirrels in the U.S. had this interesting (and beautiful!) trait.

Black coloration, or melanism, can occur in both fox squirrels and Eastern grey squirrels. Prior to European invasion of North America, old-growth forests were very abundant, dense, and large, and these shadowy forests were a perfect environment for black squirrels to thrive. Their dark coloration helped them hide in the shadows when seen from above by predators like hawks and owls. Squirrels that were grey in color were at a disadvantage, and easier for raptors to hunt.

Mass deforestation, fur trapping, and hunting ultimately led to a shift in the gene pools of both fox squirrels and eastern grey squirrels. Although the gene for black fur still exists in both species throughout their range, it’s no longer very common except in very dense forests in the Northeast.

Have you seen a black squirrel in the wild?

%d bloggers like this: