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Myths of the Mysterious Black Squirrel


The Black Squirrel of Montgomery Street
by Don Cruise

On the east side of Montgomery Street, between Henry and Madison, lives a legendary black squirrel who is fearless and feisty and doesn’t take crap from anybody. I watch him on occasion when he’s showing the local pigeons who’s boss. Don’t mess with this one!

Is there a difference between black squirrels and squirrels of other fur colors?

“Black squirrels are not a separate species at all, but a melanistic morpheme, casually known to scientists as a color morph, a fairly rare genetic variation,” claims Chicago Wilderness Magazine. “In the Midwest, as far as has been determined, all of the black squirrels are actually morphs of the gray squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis.”

Black squirrels on the Eastern seaboard are far more likely to be fox squirrels, reports CW. “The first fox squirrel observed in the 18th century was a black one, forever causing the species to be known to science as Sciurus niger, or black squirrel. The fox squirrel, which usually has a rusty or orange tinge, is bigger than the gray and has a temperament that allows it to feed more successfully with predators around. However, in the absence of predators, gray squirrels, despite their smaller size, typically chase the fox squirrels out.”

According to RoadsideAmerica.com, an "Online Guide to Offbeat Tourist Attractions," several North-American towns boost their Black Squirrel populations. Some municipalities at one time aggressively boasted pure black squirrel populations. Victoria Park In London, Ontario calls itself Home of the Black Squirrels. 

Eighteen Canadian squirrels were released at the National Zoo during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. The Washington Post reports that "those 18 squirrels – whose coats of lustrous black set them apart from the native animals – were the beginning of a shift that has changed the complexion of Washington's backyard critters. Now, probably because of a slight evolutionary advantage conveyed with a black coat, the descendants of these squirrels have spread all the way into Rockville and Prince William County." Scientists say it's a real-life example of natural selection at work, which has rolled on for a century here without much public notice. 

Wikipedia also claims the black squirrels are another victory for the theorists of Evolution: “It is thought that the black variant developed its dark coat to better absorb heat in colder climates.” Finally, here’s your opportunity to listen to The Black Squirrels Of London Song.

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