The Riverdale “Wilds”, Cornwall, Ontario, Canada
July 22, 2010
As a melanistic variety of the eastern grey squirrel, individual black squirrels can exist wherever grey squirrels live. Grey mating pairs may produce black offspring, and in areas with high concentrations of black squirrels, mixed litters are common. The black subgroup seems to have been dominant throughout North America prior to the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century, since their dark colour helped them hide in virgin forests which tended to be very dense and shaded. As time passed, hunting and deforestation led to biological advantages for grey coloured individuals. Today, the black subgroup is particularly abundant in the northern part of the Eastern Grey Squirrel’s range. This is likely due to the significantly increased cold tolerance of black individuals which lose less heat than greys. Black individuals also enjoy visibility advantages in denser northern forests.
Large natural populations of black squirrels can be found throughout Ontario, and in several parts of Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio. Populations of grey squirrels in which the black subgroup is dominant can be found in these six areas as well as in smaller enclaves in New Jersey, southern New York, Illinois and Connecticut. Outside areas of North America where black squirrels occur naturally in abundance, there are several notable introduced populations of Black Squirrels.
In the United States, the city of Kent, Ohio has a significant black squirrel population, after 10 were legally imported from Canada in February 1961. They have driven out native squirrels in many areas, though they peacefully coexist with most other rodent wildlife.
Black squirrels are well established on the Illinois side of the Quad Cities. They are mostly found in the city of Rock Island. According to one story, recounted in the book “The Palmers,” they were first introduced on the Rock Island Arsenal Island. Some of them then escaped by jumping across ice floes on the Mississippi River when it was frozen and populated other areas in Rock Island.
Black squirrels are abundant in Battle Creek, Michigan and according to legend were first introduced there by Will Keith Kellogg, founder of the Kellogg Company in an effort to destroy the local population of red squirrels. The story continues that this same population of squirrels was further introduced to the campus of Michigan State University by John Harvey Kellogg for the same purpose.
Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, maintains a significant population of black squirrels after several were introduced from Detroit prior to 1977.
Black squirrels were introduced to Stanley Park in Westfield, Massachusetts, in 1948, having been brought from Michigan as a gift to a local business man. The squirrels thrive in the park to the present.
Marysville, Kansas, has a notable population of black squirrels which legend claims arrived there by escaping from a travelling circus. The city of Hobbs, New Mexico attempted to introduce black squirrels from Marysville in 1973. However, the new population of black squirrels did not survive, likely having been killed by local fox squirrels shortly after their introduction.
Black squirrels were introduced to the Washington, D.C., area near the beginning of the 20th century at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Since their introduction, the population of black squirrels in Washington has slowly but steadily increased, and black squirrels now account for up to 25% of some squirrel populations in the area.
Vancouver, British Columbia, has a growing population of black squirrels after they were introduced to the Stanley Park Peninsula before 1914. The squirrels have thrived and spread throughout the Vancouver area.
Black squirrels can also be found in Britain where grey squirrels were first introduced from North America at the end of the 19th century. The origin of the UK’s black individuals has been a topic of dispute, with initial research indicating that melanistic individuals are descendants of black zoo escapees. Regardless of their origins, the melanistic population in the UK continues to grow, and around the towns of Letchworth, Stevenage and Hitchin, as well as nearby villages such as Meppershall in England, black squirrels are now as abundant as grey individuals.
Sony Alpha 700, Sigma 28 to 300 at 300mm
iso 400, spot metered, -1.0 ev, F6.7, 1/20 second