Why Are Some Squirrels Black

Why Are Some Squirrels Black


Why Are Some Squirrels Black: The origins of black squirrels, it’s essential to understand that they aren’t a distinct species but rather a color morph of the eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). The fascinating interplay of genetics, adaptation, and natural selection contributes to the emergence of these striking creatures. At the heart of this intriguing mystery lies a genetic mutation known as melanism. Melanin is the pigment responsible for determining the coloration of an animal’s fur or skin. Squirrels typically exhibit a range of gray and brown shades, which helps them blend into their woodland habitats, offering camouflage from predators like hawks, foxes, and owls. However, the melanistic mutation results in an overproduction of melanin, causing the squirrels’ fur to appear black.

The reasons behind the prevalence of black squirrels in certain regions are multifaceted. In some areas, such as parts of North America and Europe, black squirrels have become more common due to natural selection. In snowy regions, for example, black squirrels might have a survival advantage during winter months when their dark coats absorb more heat and provide better insulation compared to their lighter counterparts. This adaptation could increase their chances of surviving harsh winters.

Human intervention, deliberate or accidental, has also played a role in the spread of black squirrels. Some populations have arisen from individuals introduced to new areas, where they may have thrived and interbred with local gray squirrels. Beyond the scientific aspect, black squirrels hold a special place in the hearts of many, serving as enigmatic and beautiful residents of our urban and natural landscapes. Their presence adds a layer of intrigue to the diverse tapestry of wildlife, reminding us of the intricate interplay between genetics, environment, and the remarkable adaptations that occur in the natural world.

Why Are Some Squirrels Black

Why are black squirrels rare?

This, some researchers suggest, is due to the old-growth eastern forests and dense canopy. Darker squirrels blended in better. As forests were cut and more open environments prevailed, they argue, lighter-colored squirrels survived better. Now, black squirrels are rare and gray squirrels predominate.


Black squirrels owe their distinctive coloration to a genetic condition called melanism. Melanin, a pigment responsible for skin, hair, and eye coloration in animals, plays a crucial role in determining the squirrel’s coat color. In black squirrels, an abundance of melanin in their fur results in their deep black coloration.

Recessive Gene

The gene responsible for black coat color is recessive, which means that both parents must carry this gene for black squirrels to be born. When two black squirrels mate, they produce offspring with black fur, but when a black squirrel mates with a gray or red squirrel, their offspring are more likely to inherit the dominant gray or red coat color.

North America’s Origin

Black squirrels are not a separate species but rather a color variation within the eastern gray squirrel species (Sciurus carolinensis). They are believed to have originated in North America, primarily in the Great Lakes region, which includes parts of the United States and Canada.

Natural Selection

Over time, black squirrels may have thrived in certain environments due to the advantages melanism offers in terms of camouflage and thermoregulation. Black fur helps these squirrels absorb heat more efficiently, giving them an edge in cooler climates.

What is the difference between grey squirrels and black squirrels?

Black squirrels are the same species as grey squirrels, with the only difference being their fur colour. The new work builds on Dr McRobie’s research from 2014, which found that the black fur is caused by the grey squirrel having a pigment gene with a missing piece of DNA.

Coat Color

Grey Squirrels: The most noticeable distinction between grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) and black squirrels is their coat color. Grey squirrels typically have a coat of varying shades of grey, with white undersides. They may also display a reddish tint in some regions, giving rise to the name “red squirrels” in certain areas.

Black Squirrels: Black squirrels, on the other hand, possess a coat that is uniformly black. While their fur may appear jet-black from a distance, upon closer inspection, you may notice variations in shade and even some silver-gray tips.

Geographic Distribution

Grey Squirrels: Grey squirrels are native to North America, with a range that extends from the eastern and central United States into parts of Canada. They have become highly adaptable and are commonly found in both urban and rural environments.

Black Squirrels: Black squirrels are not a separate species but rather a color variation of the grey squirrel. They are most frequently found in the Great Lakes region of North America, including parts of the United States and Canada. In some areas, such as parts of Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan, black squirrels are relatively common.


Grey Squirrels: The typical grey coat color of grey squirrels is the result of a dominant genetic trait. If a grey squirrel carries a gene for black fur, it will still exhibit a grey coat.

Black Squirrels: Black squirrels owe their unique coloration to a recessive genetic trait. To produce black offspring, both parent squirrels must carry the recessive gene for black fur. When two black squirrels mate, they will typically produce black offspring.

Is it common to see a black squirrel?

Conversely, black morphs of fox squirrels typically occur most frequently in the southeastern portions of the species’ natural range, the southeastern United States. Although they are found more frequently in those regions, the coloration remains uncommon in most areas that these species inhabit.

The Great Lakes Region: Black squirrels are most commonly found in the Great Lakes region of North America, which includes parts of the United States and Canada. In states like Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, and some parts of Ontario, black squirrels are relatively abundant, and sightings are not unusual.

Urban Areas: In urban and suburban environments within the Great Lakes region, black squirrels can be more prevalent. This is often due to localized populations and the presence of black squirrels in city parks and residential neighborhoods.

Genetic Prevalence: The frequency of black squirrels in a particular area is influenced by the prevalence of the recessive genetic trait responsible for black fur. In regions with a higher number of squirrels carrying this gene, black squirrels are more likely to be seen.

Habitat and Competition: Black squirrels may thrive in certain environments where they have a competitive advantage. For example, their black fur can be more effective for thermoregulation in cooler climates. In areas with less competition for resources, such as food and nesting sites, black squirrels may be more abundant.

What is it called when a squirrel is black?

Almost all of the black squirrels you see are actually eastern grey squirrels. Virtually all mammal species have a genetic characteristic that, if expressed, makes the animal’s fur all black. This phenomenon is called “melanism”.

Melanism: The black coloration in squirrels is the result of a genetic condition known as melanism. Melanism is the opposite of albinism; it involves an increased production of melanin, the pigment responsible for hair, skin, and eye color in animals. In black squirrels, an abundance of melanin in their fur gives them their distinct black color.

Recessive Trait: The genetic trait responsible for black fur in squirrels is typically recessive. This means that both parent squirrels must carry the recessive gene for black fur to produce black offspring. When two black squirrels mate, their offspring are more likely to have black fur.

Variation Within a Species: Black squirrels are not a separate species but rather a color variant of the grey squirrel. Grey squirrels can display a range of coat colors, from predominantly grey to reddish-brown, and in the case of black squirrels, entirely black.

Geographic Distribution: Black squirrels are more commonly found in certain geographic regions, such as the Great Lakes region of North America, including parts of the United States and Canada. In these areas, black squirrels may be relatively common and are often a familiar sight.

Visibility and Predation: The striking black coloration of black squirrels can make them more visible to predators, such as birds of prey like hawks and owls. This heightened visibility may affect their survival rates in some regions.

Are black squirrels aggressive?

Scientists and laypeople alike have observed that black squirrels tend to exhibit more aggressive behaviour than others. This is important because a more aggressive animal may be more likely to move into human habitation, requiring squirrel removal Hamilton.

Shyness and Caution: Squirrels, including black squirrels, are known for their cautious and skittish nature. They are prey animals, which means they are naturally wary of potential threats. When humans approach them, they often exhibit evasive behavior, such as running away or climbing to a safe height.

Feeding Habits: Black squirrels, like all squirrels, are primarily herbivorous and spend a significant portion of their time foraging for food. They may become bolder and approach humans when seeking food, especially in urban areas where people frequently feed wildlife. However, this behavior is typically driven by a desire for food rather than aggression.

Territorial Behavior: Squirrels, including black squirrels, are territorial animals. They may defend their territory from other squirrels but are unlikely to view humans as direct competitors for resources. If you encounter a black squirrel displaying territorial behavior, such as vocalizing or chasing another squirrel, it is not directed at humans.

Defensive Behavior: If a black squirrel feels threatened or cornered, it may exhibit defensive behaviors. These can include vocalizing, flicking its tail, and even attempting to nip or scratch if it perceives a physical threat. However, such defensive actions are not indicative of inherent aggressiveness but rather a natural response to perceived danger.

Interaction with Humans: In urban areas where humans and squirrels coexist, squirrels may become somewhat accustomed to human presence and may appear less fearful. Nevertheless, this does not equate to aggression; it is more a result of habituation to human activity.

Do black squirrels have a advantage?

It’s been suggested that their black coat is a selective advantage for inhabiting colder regions. Their heat- capturing black fur reduces loss of body heat, keeping them toasty-warm in comparison to gray squirrels. Regardless of their color, squirrels are quite adora- ble and fun to observe from a distance.

Camouflage in Certain Environments: In regions with dark or dense forests and vegetation, black squirrels may have an advantage in terms of camouflage. Their dark fur can make them less conspicuous to predators such as hawks and owls, especially when they are perched against tree trunks or branches.

Thermoregulation: Black fur can absorb and retain heat more effectively than lighter-colored fur. This thermoregulation advantage can be beneficial in cooler climates or during colder seasons. Black squirrels can maintain their body temperature more efficiently, reducing the risk of hypothermia.

Mate Attraction: In some cases, female squirrels may be attracted to males with unique traits, such as black fur. This could potentially enhance the reproductive success of male black squirrels, although mate choice can vary among individuals and populations.

Local Adaptation: In regions where black squirrels are prevalent, they may have evolved specific adaptations that make them well-suited to local environmental conditions. This local adaptation can provide advantages in terms of foraging, survival, and reproduction within their particular habitat.

Do black squirrels mate with gray?

The black squirrel is the same species as the grey squirrel and poses no threat to the variety. Black squirrels can mate with greys and if this happens offspring will have a combination of faulty and fully working genes, giving them a brown-black coat.

Interbreeding: Black squirrels and grey squirrels can mate and produce offspring together. When a black squirrel mates with a grey squirrel, their offspring can inherit a range of coat colors, depending on the genetic traits passed on by their parents. These offspring can have coats that are grey, black, or even variations in between.

Genetics of Coat Color: Coat color in squirrels is determined by the interaction of multiple genes. The black coat color is typically the result of a recessive gene. For a squirrel to have black fur, it must inherit two copies of the recessive gene (one from each parent). If one or both parents carry the dominant gene for grey fur, their offspring may have grey fur instead.

Variability in Offspring: The coat color of the offspring resulting from a mating between a black squirrel and a grey squirrel can vary, even if both parents are black. This is because they may carry different combinations of genes that influence coat color. Some offspring may inherit two copies of the black gene and be black, while others may inherit one black gene and one grey gene, resulting in a grey coat.

Population Dynamics: In regions where both black and grey squirrels coexist, you may observe a mixture of coat colors within the squirrel population. The relative frequency of black squirrels versus grey squirrels in a given area can vary depending on various factors, including the prevalence of the black gene in the population and local environmental conditions.

What is the mystery of the black squirrel?

Scientists at Anglia Ruskin University believe that North American greys mated with fox squirrels, causing a genetic quirk which threw up black fur in a section of the population. Britain’s black squirrels are all thought to have come from a single squirrel in a private zoo who escaped and passed on the gene.

Genetic Anomaly: One of the primary mysteries surrounding black squirrels is the genetic anomaly that causes their dark coloration. Unlike the more common grey and red squirrels, black squirrels have an abundance of melanin in their fur, a pigment responsible for hair, skin, and eye color in animals. This genetic condition, known as melanism, results in their black or very dark brown coats.

Recessive Trait: The black coat color in squirrels is the result of a recessive genetic trait. To produce black offspring, both parent squirrels must carry the recessive gene for black fur. This adds an element of intrigue to their coloration, as it is not a dominant trait in the squirrel population.

Historical Origin: Black squirrels are often associated with the Great Lakes region of North America, particularly areas in the United States and Canada. Understanding the historical distribution and origin of black squirrels adds to the mystery of why they are more prevalent in certain regions and less common in others.

Local Legends and Folklore: In regions where black squirrels are found, they often become the subject of local legends and folklore. These stories can range from tales of good luck associated with spotting a black squirrel to unique origin stories that explain their presence in the area.

Why Are Some Squirrels Black


One of the most intriguing aspects of black squirrels is their adaptation to snowy environments. In regions with harsh winters, the black coat’s ability to absorb and retain heat provides a clear advantage, potentially increasing their chances of survival. This adaptation highlights the remarkable ways in which animals can evolve to thrive in their specific habitats.

Human intervention has also contributed to the prevalence of black squirrels in certain areas. Whether through deliberate introductions or accidental escapes, these melanistic squirrels have established themselves in new locales, often interbreeding with native gray squirrels. This human influence has played a role in expanding the range of black squirrels and enhancing their populations. Beyond their scientific significance, black squirrels add a touch of mystery and beauty to our natural and urban landscapes. They serve as a reminder of the intricate dance between nature and evolution, where even subtle genetic variations can lead to striking differences in appearance and behavior.

To study and appreciate these enigmatic creatures, we gain a deeper understanding of the complexity of the natural world. The story of why some squirrels are black is a testament to the fascinating mechanisms of adaptation and survival that shape the diversity of life on Earth. Black squirrels are more than just a curiosity. They are a testament to the enduring wonders of nature and the ongoing exploration of the mysteries that lie within the animal kingdom. Their dark fur, once a product of genetic chance, now stands as a symbol of the relentless march of evolution and the enduring beauty of the natural world.

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