You have probably seen the grey. You may even have encountered or at least heard of the red. However, have you ever seen a black squirrel? Take a look at this small but dark beasty of the forest. Oh, and they are really, really cute.
This is the black squirrel. Out of the squirrel population of the United States and Canada perhaps only one in ten thousand is black. However, this is not a separate species in itself. It is in fact a sub-group of the grey squirrel and, little by little their numbers are growing. In fact in some areas they outnumber the greys. However, this black coloring is not a recent trend among the squirrel community – research indicates that in the days before the European settlement of the America the black squirrel was probably much more numerous than the grey.
The Black Squirrel does have some natural advantages over the grey, not least in its photogenic appeal to photographers who still work in black and white. Instead of being a separate species, the Black Squirrel is in fact what is known as a melanistic subgroup. Midwestern North America is their stomping ground although there are groups to be found in the UK (more of which later). Melanism is caused by an increased level of black pigmentation, a compound which determines color called melanin. This subgroup of the Eastern Grey has stacks of melanin and these melanistic traits are the opposite of albinism which occurs when flora or fauna have a lack of the compound.
It’s all about natural selection, so it seems. The Black Squirrels (I am inclined to shorten this to BS but it has rather unfortunate implications) can be found wherever the greys live. It is quite common for two greys to mate and to produce a mixture of black and grey offspring. It seems that the blacks were more common than the greys before European settlement because their darker color enabled them to hide in the dark forests which covered the continent at that time.