Gray squirrel

Sciurus carolinensis

TAXONOMY

Sciurus carolinensis Gmelin, 1788, "Carolina." United States. OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Eastern gray squirrel, migratory squirrel; French: Ecureil gris; German: Grauhornchen; Spanish: Ardilla gris.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Head and body length 9.4-11.2 in (240-285 mm), tail 7.5-9.5 in (190-240 mm); weight 10.6-26 oz (300-720 g); sexes similar. Grizzled black to pale gray coat color mixed with reddish brown on feet, hips, and head, underpart white to pale gray.

DISTRIBUTION

Eastern United States, with introductions to Montana, Oregon, Washington, and California, also introduced to Quebec, New Brunswick, British Colombia, Manitoba, and Vancouver Island in Canada and Britain, Ireland, and South Africa.

HABITAT

Mature continuous forest and woodland. Highest observed densities in stands of oak, walnut, and hickory, very low densities in conifer dominated plantations colonized by gray squirrels in Britain.

BEHAVIOR

Diurnal activity pattern, active all year. Gray squirrels considered solitary and both sexes disperse. However, female-biased philopatry and the formation of female kin groups observed in high quality parkland in Kansas.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Gray squirrels feed predominantly on nuts as well as tree seeds of both deciduous and coniferous species. Other food items include, flowers, buds, fungi, and fruit. Gray squirrels hoard seeds such as acorns. The squirrels may react to a chemical cue in the shell of the acorns and caching decisions were found to be based on perishability with longer lived items being cached rather than consumed. In addition, gray squirrels increase the longevity of their food stores by preventing germination through embryo excision. This is particularly the case for white oak (Quercus alba) acorns.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Polygamous. Females can have young within their first year of age. There are two breeding peaks, December to February and May to June (breeding in South Africa begins in October). Males are attracted to estrus females from considerable distances away and start following the females, sometimes several days before onset of estrus. Gestation period is approximately 44 days, followed by approximately 70 days of lactation. Litter size ranges from 1-7 with an average of about 2.3.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Common; not threatened

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Hunted for sport and food. Adored by many in city parks and gardens, although gardeners dislike them for digging up bulbs and competing with birds at feeders. Considered a pest in Britain due to causing significant damage to deciduous and

Sciurus carolinensis Sciurus variegatoides

coniferous trees in woodlands through bark stripping and due to competition with red squirrels. ♦

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