America’s Original Squirrel

This week’s blog was written by Haden S., an Ursids alumni. Growing up in the country, both the outdoors and animals have always been a huge part of Haden’s life. Hiking, fishing, horseback-riding and fishing are his favorite hobbies. Haden wanted to attend the Wildlife Leadership Academy to learn more about the natural world and how to protect it for future generations.

Have you ever seen a black squirrel? Most people don’t even know they exist, but due to evolutionary influences, they are becoming more prevalent. Five hundred years ago, black was actually the predominant coloration of squirrels in North America. The black color allowed squirrels to blend into the dark, dense old growth forests that covered the landscape. This natural camouflage was especially valuable in evading predators.

Black squirrel sitting on a tree branch with a nut in its mouth
Black squirrel eating a nut

As old growth forests were cleared for farming and development, the evolutionary tides turned in favor of the gray color morph. The lighter, grayish hue of modern forests have created an environment where gray, not black coloration is advantageous.

Gray Squirrel clinging to the side of a post
Gray Squirrel

However, there is an exception to this. In urban environments the black color morph is able to thrive. This would seem contrary as black doesn’t blend in well with the concrete that blankets our suburbs and cities. That’s precisely why black squirrels are able to flourish. Their darker coat allows them to stand out on roadways and significantly lowers their chance of becoming roadkill; whereas the gray coat has the opposite effect. Furthermore, because there is practically no hunting or predation in urban areas, contrasting with their surroundings is only a benefit.

Black Squirrel sitting on top of a stump
Black Squirrel

So keep this in mind next time you find yourself in the concrete jungle, because around the corner might be America’s original squirrel.

The photos used in this blog belong to the author.