The color of the coat, somewhat different from normal, is what has drawn attention to this small mammal so common. They are fox squirrels, and some of them offer us human wildlife watchers a rare treat, namely squirrels almost all white (not albino), and others with only their tails bearing white hairs while the rest of the body retains. normal fur.
The image of the squirrel with only its tail colored white is near this author’s home in Albion. I saw and photographed a similar situation several years ago, and wrote about these anomalies, including other communities with many all-white or all-black squirrels, in my November 13, 2016 column.
Some cities have incorporated depictions of wildlife as part of their public identity in police cars, fire trucks, employee work shirt patches, school mascots, and tourist shop souvenirs. White squirrels are common in Marionville, Missouri; Olney, Ill.; and Kenton, Tenn.
The flip side of the melanistic or non-genetic anomalies in Mother Nature’s code are all the black squirrels found in cities like Middletown, Conn.; Council Bluffs, Iowa; London, Ontario, Canada; Kent and Glendale, Ohio; and Charleston, WV I photographed a completely black fox squirrel near the Sand Road between Albion and Marshalltown in November 2016.
So what’s behind the unusual hair color variations in squirrels? According to various researched articles, these oddities are the result of too much or too little melanin production. Mammals have two types of melanin produced by hair follicles. Low proportions of melanin tend
towards white fur and are a genetic abnormality. Age-related coat lightening is not genetic but the result of follicles losing their ability to produce melanin. The high production of melanin can give the animal black fur.
Another trick of Mother Nature that has given squirrels a system for growing new hair is shedding. There are two moults per year, spring and fall. On the body, molting will begin with replacement hairs on the head progressing towards the tail. In the tail itself, molting begins at the tip and gradually moves towards the body over a period of three to four weeks.
Squirrels are engaged in collecting food sources. Our fox squirrel’s cousin is the gray squirrel. Mammologists have noted that grays are slightly smaller, and as for the teeth in their skulls, grays have one more set of teeth in the upper cheek than fox squirrels. Fox squirrel skulls are larger in both length and width, enough to notice. However, tooth numbers are critically important for identification.
Before the colonization of the United States, some naturalists and careful squirrel watchers proposed that it would have been entirely possible for tree squirrels to move from the East Coast to the Midwest without ever setting foot on the ground. A jump, jump and jump from tree to tree could have made it likely. Whether that ever happened is unknown, but it’s interesting to speculate.
Mother Nature provides interesting opportunities while taking care of her creations. She is a careful observer of all the wild creatures that live in and around us. Enjoy.
DEER DATA was a part of my story last week. I discussed biologists’ ongoing work to monitor populations in general in all corners of Iowa. Biologists also know that white-tailed deer can be very prolific if left alone. There is a chance the Iowa deer herd will outgrow their habitat. It is a royal thing. Without hunting, the population could double in two years and double again in another two years.
That is not a strategy that DNR biologists want to advocate. A huge imbalance between deteriorating deer and habitat would resurface, along with complaints from motorists and homeowners.
What Iowa is doing for deer control may not be perfect, but it is working. What is being done regarding management is to selectively reduce the numbers each fall during the hunting seasons.
I was recently asked if deer hunting is culling out too many trophy bucks. The basis of the question was the idea that only smaller horned males would be a long-term trend line, and that true trophy males would become less and less available. The question was not based on biological facts, only on emotion, and emotion is not how to respond to political decisions for good long-term results.
My answer was easy to answer. No, taking trophy deer does not harm the deer herd. It is one thing to wish and succeed in hunting a large antlered deer. Really achieving that deer is much more difficult to do. The odds are against the hunter to fulfill that dream, but it happens every year somewhere for someone.
Hunters are contributing significantly to the health of deer herds, even as some of the offspring on land turn out to be bucks with very impressive antlers. The smaller bucks live to see another year and typically grow larger antlers each year. Males become wiser and learn to evade and stay well hidden at all times as they mature.
Nationally, deer hunters increased during the COVID years of 2020 and 2021. With more free time to do things and the desire to participate in purchasing healthy meats for the family, there was an average increase of five percent percent in deer license sales from pre-COVID years. With more hunters in every state, they brought home more than 500,000 more deer than in previous years.
According to data from the National Deer Association (NDA), 6.3 million deer were killed by legal and regulated hunting during the 2020-21 season. This broke a record that had stood since 2011. Nationally taken buck deer reached 3,041,544, and that was the most bucks taken in 21 years of record keeping.
The NDA data shows that 41 percent of the males were at least 3.5 years old. So the effect is that in the 2020-21 deer seasons in the US the more mature male deer were removed. Of those deer, a small proportion were animals with exceptional antlers, while the majority were respectable representatives of the species.
Year after year, careful handling allows young males to develop into animals with larger antlers. There is no decrease in “trophy class” dollars just because a hunter, a youngster going out hunting for the first time, an archer, or a gun hunter is in the right place at the right time to collect
a lifetime example of a deer with very large antlers.
The Iowa Deer Classic Show held each year in early March tests the ability of Iowa land to raise some fantastic buck deer. Hunters are reaping the benefits of balancing deer age classes and the general population in line with the carrying capacity of the land and the social carrying capacity of public perceptions.
The pheasants are bringing new young. Reports are coming in that female pheasants and their newly hatched little chicks are being spotted. It’s good to know that this hardy game bird is doing its best to bring in a new generation.
Pheasant numbers will be counted during August when biologists and rangers drive designated trails in Iowa’s 99 counties. From that data, trend lines can be plotted to compare pheasant numbers from previous years and decades.
Time plays an important role. Habitat plays a very important role as survival cover and food sources are found within good habitat. Stay tuned as summer progresses.
Wild turkey sightings are also encouraged. If and when you see guans and their poults, make a note of the date and location, the size of the birds, and the total number of poults. Let me know what you see. Call me at 641-750-4914. I will send the information to the correct people. Thanks.
Garry Brandenburg is the retired director of the
Marshall County Board of Conservation. he is a graduate of
Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in Fish and Wildlife Biology.
Contact him at:
post office box 96
Albion, IA 50005