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Fur Color Variations in Grey Squirrels
A Squirrel of a Different Color
I love watching the squirrels that frequent my backyard feeder, but it's difficult to recognize and track individuals. Most grey squirrels look pretty much the same, though up close, they do have slight variations in coat color. Extreme variations are rare. I never thought much about squirrel fur color variations until Blondie showed up one day at the feeder. He (yes, Blondie is male, but I named him before he got close enough for me to determine gender) is unusally light colored. Interested, I read up on the genetics of squirrel fur color and started noticing the subtle variations in fur color of "typical-colored" grey squirrels.
Typically, grey squirrels (in this geographic area) have medium grey bodies, matching feet and head, white underbelly, a brown overcoat, and mixed color tail with white tips. According to my reading, squirrels have six genes or gene groups that control the fur color on different parts of their bodies. Though extreme variations are rare, any color from all black to all white, and anything in between is possible.
Like all mammals, squirrels have two types of melanin produced by the follicles to color the fur, dark and red (won't bore you with the scientific names). The amount of melanin determines the intensity of color - dark makes black to grey, red makes dark red to blond. White is the absence of melanin in the hair shaft. Genetically melanin-free or white fur is a genetic trait, unlike albinism, which is a genetic anomaly. Age-related lightening of the fur (or hair) is not genetic, but the result of the follicles losing their ability to produce melanin resulting in less and less in the hairs. Blondie appears to have little dark melanin, less in the back half of his body and a little more in the front half.
Blondie at feeder with greys
This very dark, near black squirrel appeared at the feeder one day, but didn't stay. I got only this one quick photo. He had a patch of fur missing off one knee, so I suspect he's a "catch and release". Some people around here like the wooded area, but not the wildlife - or at least not in their yard. They use no-kill traps to catch the squirrels, raccoons, etc. then release them in the wooded area by the lake.
Many find their way to my yard with the free food, but typically they just get a quick snack before heading for home. Most animals don't want to be relocated and try to get home. It's difficult for animals to establish themselves in an area already well populated with competitors. They either find their way back home, or move in where there's food but little competition.
While the traps are designed not to kill, the animals are usually traumatized and fearful, sometime injured too from struggling to free themselves. They can be very aggressive looking for food and water in a strange place filled with resident animals, and quarrelsome.
More Pictures of Blondie
This picture shows Blondie's color variations - almost like he's wearing tan pants with grey leggings.
His tail is the lightest part, making him easy to track as he's running around the yard.
His color doesn't seem to affect his interaction with the other squirrels.