You’ve heard of grey squirrels and the more elusive red squirrel, but have you ever heard of a black squirrel?
Sparky the squirrel is out in force again, scurrying up and down trees and dashing hell-for-leather across the road right in front of cars. (Definitely chancing his luck, as most drivers are busy rushing to their next appointment, driving far too fast, not stopping at stop signs, and certainly not noticing a small dark thing playing chicken with their tyres!)
A few weeks ago I saw a new little Sparky in my garden. He was a youngster; smaller and thinner than his elders, with a thin scratty tail.
However, his most arresting feature was none of the above, but his colour! He was the darkest squirrel I’ve ever seen. Such a dark grey that he was almost black.
I thought perhaps he was just a bit of a freak, or maybe he was so young that this was a sort of ‘baby’ coat and he would change to a paler grey when he grew up. But I have since seen squirrels all over the place and several of these have also had very dark grey coats.
As you can imagine, all this Sparky activity on our walks is very exciting for Little Monkey and Mr Spaghetti Legs. Maybe you’d think that a darker squirrel might have some kind of camouflage advantage? Not so, since it is the movement that the dogs pick up on and surprisingly, they see the dark squirrel scampering around just as easily as the paler grey ones: especially, I have to say, LM, who is a supreme hunter with the best eyesight of any dog I’ve ever met.
So why has Sparky developed a dark coat? What advantage is it to him?
My first thought was along the lines of those moths (no idea where) that were whitish in colour. Entomologists thought they’d discovered a new species when they found similar moths, but black in colour. Further study revealed that they were the same species! The trees in the area that the moths habitually ‘sat’ on used have pale bark, and the pale moths blended in perfectly. With heavy pollution the tree trunks had turned black. A white moth was now easily visible and picked off the bark by birds etc. Any moth slightly darker had better survival odds. They made more dark moths and in no time you had a ‘new species’ of black moth.
However, I doubt that the squirrels have changed their coats in a season so that they can blend in on dark tree trunks! Perhaps there was one unusually dark-coated individual, who just happened to be successful and prolific and made lots of dark little kits? I have no idea.
I just know that Sparky crossing over to the Dark Side makes for a very pretty squirrel.
post script: At the time of going to press I have no available pictures of the elusive Dark Sparky! I very rarely take my camera on our dog walks, as I need both hands for managing LM! But I will try to take a photo of him one of these days.
post post script: A male squirrel is called a buck, a female is a doe, babies are kits or pups and their nest is a drey.