Black Squirrels

UPDATE: The original post was January 2005 and the November mentioned was obviously November 2004, it’s May 2016 as I type this update, not seen the black variant in our garden since this photo was taken.

Nothing is black and white, or should that be grey and black? As I type, I can see two grey squirrels chasing around our back garden, doing the kinds of things squirrels usually do. But, there’s no sign of the slightly fluffier black squirrel we’ve been seeing around these parts since last November. I’m not worried for Cyril (obvious name, really) but curious as to how the ecological dynamic is being disturbed by the grey incomers. Ironic really, given that the black is a simple genetic variant of the American grey and neither are native to the UK. We have our own red squirrel, which is increasingly rare even in Northumberland (I did see one in France last year though).

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9 thoughts on “Black Squirrels

  1. The area that is now Letchworth Garden City was open countryside between the villages of Norton, Willian and Letchworth until 1903. Then, First Garden City Ltd, the company set up by the founder of Letchworth, Ebenezer Howard, bought the land and started building the town. Near the centre of the town is a large area of open common land. I was told that what had happened was that when building work started there were some colonies of black squirrels living there. As the town built up around them, closing them in on the common, they could not, in effect, move on. So, without predators they thrived and have over the decades spread out from the common all over the town.

    The Black Squirrel pub opened in, I believe, around 1973, as part of the town centre rebuild. It has since closed and is now a restaurant with a different name.

    Having lived with black squirrels all my life, my view is that the main difference is the tails. A black squirrel tail always looks fluffier to me, like it has a thin stem and long hairs, where a grey squirrel tail looks fatter, with shorter hairs on it.

    My family have been in Letchworth since before 1911 and I’ve never heard any of them mention red squirrels here – and as they tend to be much further north, I would say that its unlikely there have been any here in the last 100 years +

    Hope this helps.

    GDR

  2. Would be interested to know how long the black squirrels have been in Letchworth.

    Which coloured squirrel do you think they were originally from?

    Were there every any red squirrels in Letchworth?

  3. The black squirrel population in northern Wisconsin has been steadily increasing. Now we seem to have more black squirrels than grays.

  4. It was the only pub, I’d forgotten that!

    Apparently there are ten times as many blacks as greys in some part of the American mid-west. I think the only thing that’s new in the latest flurry of news is that Alison Thomas at Anglia Ruskin University spotted one in Cottenham, and published on the genetics just recently. There’s a reference on her web site to Thomas, A.P.M. & Pankhurst, S.J. (2005). The Black Squirrels of Cambridgeshire. Nature in Cambridgeshire, 46, 61. Dunno why the local paper took three years to learn about it, I know some press offices can be slow to pick up on their organisation’s scientific output but that’s extreme…

    db

  5. It’s amazing how much fuss has been made about “Black squirrels now being found as far as Cambridge” – like you say; I grew up in Letchworth and thought nothing of seeing Black Squirrels since they used to play in our back garden and yes, when I lived there the ONLY pub in Letchworth was called The Black Squirrel (its alcoholic loneliness a legacy of the town’s original Quaker founders). There was something lurking in my distant memory that suggests we were told that the gene for being a black squirrel was dominant which is why the population had not been overcome by the grey coated variety but I could be wrong on that…it was a very long time ago!

  6. It’s more than three years since I wrote this short post and it’s only now (April 2008) that the local news media have finally picked up on the story. Funnily enough though, people around Royston and Letchworth area have known about black squirrels for at least a couple of hundred years, there’s a pub in Letchworth called the Black Squirrel, after all.

    db

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