Watching the black squirrels rise

Mutant black squirrel populations are increasing in Minnesota.

Mutant black squirrel populations are increasing in Minnesota.

It’s been some time since local wildlife enthusiast Marty Mahowald asked me what I knew about black squirrels. He went on to explain that, in recent years, he has noticed more of these creatures appearing at the bird feeders in his garden.

At the time, I thought it would be a great topic for a column, since the black squirrel population seems to be increasing in our state. However, it was only recently, when I saw one crossing our yard, that I remembered my plan for a column.

There was a period in my hunting career where I spent much of the fall and winter months hunting squirrels. It was a great hobby that I really enjoyed. At some point, ice fishing replaced my squirrel hunting.

Of all the squirrels I harvested in those days, I never saw a black squirrel. The exception to this was a group of woods near Brainerd that I used to hunt with my brother. I’m talking about 40 years ago.

For some reason, this particular forest was full of black squirrels. The dark color of these tree-huggers made them easier to see than their gray cousins. And that made the hunting process much simpler.

Since then, all those years ago, I have noticed a steady increase in the population of black squirrels in our state. They have gone from being a rare commodity to something quite common.

Since I’m not an expert on squirrels, I did a Google search for more information.

Black squirrels are nothing more than a mutant color phase of the common eastern gray squirrel. By following DNA evidence, it was discovered that the original black coloration actually came from interbreeding grays with black fox squirrels.

Two gray squirrels cannot produce black offspring. However, a male black squirrel that mates with a female gray will produce black babies.

Another interesting fact is that black squirrels are more tolerant of cold weather and more easily survive Minnesota winters. That may have something to do with the growing population of this color phase.

Black squirrels are not found everywhere in Minnesota. However, since their numbers are increasing, they may approach an oak tree near you.

jerry carlson

jerry carlson

This is the opinion of outdoor columnist Jerry Carlson. Contact him at [email protected].

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This article originally appeared in St. Cloud Times: Outdoor Column: Analyzing the rise of black squirrels