Thursday, 18 July 2013

Black Squirrels

On the watch

When I first spotted a black squirrel here in Toronto, I thought, wow this is another strange thing about Canada. I added this to my collection of other peculiar items like vehicles driving with lights turned on during daytime, inverted power switches and door handles, absolute lack of honking et cetera. But weirder was the sight of black and grey squirrels playing and running side by side. Different species usually don’t mingle together and symbiotic relationships are rare. A little research (googling) and an afternoon at Queens Park showed that black squirrels are just a melanistic version of regular grey squirrels. Now melanism is the development of black pigmentation in the skin. It is direct opposite of albinism where lack of pigmentation gives appearance of white skin. While albinism is known to express in large number of animals including humans, melanism is rare. Black Panther is one example which is a pigmented form of leopard. 

Black and grey squirrels playing hide and seek at Queens Park

Black squirrels get their coloring from a mutant pigment gene and it can range from jet black to brown black. Environmental advantages like cold tolerance and better concealment from prey have resulted in their higher populations in eastern Canada but these are not common in other areas. Due to their rarity, several US educational institutions and towns are using black squirrel as their official mascot.

A black squirrel trying to meld with tree bark

Anyway, it was fun chasing and photographing squirrels under cool shades of cedar and maple trees at Queens Park. Both varieties of squirrels seem to go along rather happily like their human counterparts in multicultural Toronto.

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