Trio of Melanistic Squirrels

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A trio of black squirrels foraging ravenously for acorns and crabapples on thanksgiving. Although several were constantly consuming the nuts and fruit, others seemed more devoted to stowing away their rewards into the ground — maybe a smarter option for this time of year. From the photos it’s easy to tell which squirrel is which (the stealthy one, the gluttonous one, and the precarious one). These black squirrels all belong to a population in powderhouse square near where I live. Some days they are scarce, but today I spotted over a dozen of them, about half a pale normal coloration and the other half a chocolate brown. Melanism in eastern gray squirrels can pop up in any population and is the result of a mutant pigment gene that produces an excess of eumelanin. Gray squirrels that are homozygous wild-type express color bands of eumelanin and phaeomelanin, while a jet-black phenotype is the result of a homozygous mutation. The melanic allele is incompletely dominant to the wild-type allele, so squirrels that are heterozygous have a dark chocolate color. Hopefully the black color helps them retain a bit more heat as the frigid winter comes. So, it turns out I haven’t seen a completely melanistic squirrel yet; I’ll be crossing my fingers for one in the snow for Christmas.

Photographed after pursuit [3]

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