If you notice a black squirrel in North Carolina, you might think it's a separate species from its red, brown or gray counterparts. However, two North Carolinian species -- the southeastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) and the eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) -- can have black fur.
Southeastern Fox Squirrels
Southeastern fox squirrels are less common than they once were in North Carolina, because of loss of longleaf pine forests, their preferred habitat. They're usually 20 to 26 inches long and 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 pounds -- much larger than eastern gray squirrels and western fox squirrels. They're active in the daytime, when they can often be found foraging for foods such as acorns, pine seeds, berries and hickory nuts.
Black Fur in Southeastern Fox Squirrels
Southeastern fox squirrels can have several possible natural color phases -- gray, red, black or a combination. In North Carolina, most squirrels in this species are gray, sometimes with black patches. An estimated 25 percent of southeastern fox squirrels have black coats. Some of these black squirrels have gray facial masks.
Eastern Gray Squirrels
Eastern gray squirrels, who are common in North Carolina, were made the state's official mammal in 1969. On average, they measure 15 to 20 inches and a little over 1 pound. Although they prefer large, mature woodlands, they're adaptable and can be found even in urban areas. They feed mostly on nuts, buds and flowers, but they also eat insects, eggs, fungi, carrion, and small mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
Black Fur in Eastern Gray Squirrels
Although eastern gray squirrels can have black fur, only one in every 10,000 of them is black. Black coats in this species are the result of a genetic mutation that causes melanism, the overproduction of black pigment. It's thought that before the 1700s, most squirrels of this species in the northern states were black. This helped camouflage them in the region's dense, dark forests, which have since been felled.
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