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The Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), Grey squirrel

Фото Eastern gray squirrel

Systematics, habitat, lifestyle and behaviour

The Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), Grey squirrel is a mammal (Mammalia) in the squirrel family (Sciuridae) of the rodent family (Rodentia).

The eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), also known, particularly outside of North America, as simply the grey squirrel, is a tree squirrel in the genus Sciurus. It is native to eastern North America, where it is the most prodigious and ecologically essential natural forest regenerator. Widely introduced to certain places around the world, the eastern gray squirrel in Europe, in particular, is regarded as an invasive species.

In Europe, Sciurus carolinensis is included since 2016 in the list of Invasive Alien Species of Union concern (the Union list). This implies that this species cannot be imported, bred, transported, commercialized, or intentionally released into the environment in the whole of the European Union.


Sciurus carolinensis is native to the eastern and midwestern United States, and to the southerly portions of the central provinces of Canada. In the mid-1800s the population in the midwestern United States was described as being "truly astonishing", but human predation and habitat destruction through deforestation resulted in drastic population reductions, to the point that the animal was almost absent from Illinois by 1900.

The native range of the eastern gray squirrel overlaps with that of the fox squirrel (Sciurus niger), with which it is sometimes confused, although the core of the fox squirrel's range is slightly more to the west. The eastern gray squirrel is found from New Brunswick, through southwestern Quebec and throughout southern Ontario plus in southern Manitoba, south to East Texas and Florida. Breeding eastern gray squirrels are found in Nova Scotia, but whether this population was introduced or came from natural range expansion is not known.

A prolific and adaptable species, the eastern gray squirrel has also been introduced to, and thrives in, several regions of the western United States and in 1966, this squirrel was introduced onto Vancouver Island in Western Canada in the area of Metchosin, and has spread widely from there. They are considered highly invasive and a threat to both the local ecosystem and the native squirrel, the American red squirrel.

Overseas, eastern gray squirrels in Europe are a concern because they have displaced some of the native squirrels there. They have been introduced into Ireland, Britain, Italy, South Africa, and Australia (where it was extirpated by 1973).

In Ireland, the native squirrel – also colored red – the Eurasian red squirrel S. vulgaris – has been displaced in several eastern counties, though it still remains common in the south and west of the country. The gray squirrel is also an invasive species in Britain; it has spread across the country and has largely displaced the red squirrel.That such a displacement might happen in Italy is of concern, as gray squirrels might spread to other parts of mainland Europe.


The generic name, Sciurus, is derived from two Greek words, skia 'shadow' and oura 'tail'. This name alludes to the squirrel sitting in the shadow of its tail. The specific epithet, carolinensis, refers to the Carolinas, where the species was first recorded and where the animal is still extremely common. In the United Kingdom and Canada, it is simply referred to as the "grey squirrel". In the US, "eastern" is used to differentiate the species from the western gray squirrel (Sciurus griseus).


The eastern gray squirrel has predominantly gray fur, but it can have a brownish color. It has a usual white underside as compared to the typical brownish-orange underside of the fox squirrel. It has a large bushy tail. Particularly in urban situations where the risk of predation is reduced, both white – and black-colored individuals are quite often found. The melanistic form, which is almost entirely black, is predominant in certain populations and in certain geographic areas, such as in large parts of southeastern Canada. Melanistic squirrels appear to exhibit a higher cold tolerance than the common gray morph; when exposed to −10 °C, black squirrels showed an 18% reduction in heat loss, a 20% reduction in basal metabolic rate, and an 11% increase to non-shivering thermogenesis capacity when compared to the common gray morph. The black coloration is caused by an incomplete dominant mutation of MC1R, where E+/E+ is a wild type squirrel, E+/EB is brown-black, and EB/EB is black.

The head and body length is from 23 to 30 cm (9.1 to 11.8 in), the tail from 19 to 25 cm (7.5 to 9.8 in), and the adult weight varies between 400 and 600 g (14 and 21 oz). They do not display sexual dimorphism, meaning there is no gender difference in size or coloration.

The tracks of an eastern gray squirrel are difficult to distinguish from the related fox squirrel and Abert's squirrel, though the latter's range is almost entirely different from the gray's. Like all squirrels, the eastern gray shows four toes on the front feet and five on the hind feet. The hind foot-pad is often not visible in the track. When bounding or moving at speed, the front foot tracks will be behind the hind foot tracks. The bounding stride can be two to three feet long.


Diseases such as typhus, plague, and tularemia are spread by eastern gray squirrels. If not properly treated, these diseases have the potential to kill squirrels. When bitten or exposed to bodily fluids, humans can contract these diseases. Also carried by eastern gray squirrels are parasites such as ringworm, fleas, lice, mites, and ticks which can kill their squirrel host. Their skin may become rough, blotchy, and prone to hair loss due to the mite parasite during the chilly winter months. The parasites are not transferred to people when these squirrels reside in attics or homes. A frequent illness spread by ticks is Lyme disease. Ticks can also spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever. It can result in damage to internal organs including the heart and kidney if not properly treated. An eastern gray squirrel is susceptible to illness. They are susceptible to diseases including fibromatosis and squirrelpox. A squirrel with fibromatosis, a virus-induced illness, may grow massive skin tumors all over the body. Blindness could result from a tumor that is located close to a squirrel's eye.

Behavior and ecology

Like many members of the family Sciuridae, the eastern gray squirrel is a scatter-hoarder; it hoards food in numerous small caches for later recovery. Some caches are quite temporary, especially those made near the site of a sudden abundance of food which can be retrieved within hours or days for reburial in a more secure site. Others are more permanent and are not retrieved until months later. Each squirrel is estimated to make several thousand caches each season. The squirrels have very accurate spatial memory for the locations of these caches, using distant and nearby landmarks to retrieve them. Smell is used partly to uncover food caches, and also to find food in other squirrels' caches. Scent can be unreliable when the ground is too dry or covered in snow.

Squirrels sometimes use deceptive behavior to prevent other animals from retrieving cached food. For example, they will pretend to bury the object if they feel that they are being watched. They do this by preparing the spot as usual, for instance, digging a hole or widening a crack, miming the placement of the food, while actually concealing it in their mouths, and then covering up the "cache" as if they had deposited the object. They also hide behind vegetation while burying food or hide it high up in trees (if their rival is not arboreal). Such a complex repertoire suggests that the behaviours are not innate, and imply theory of mind thinking.

The eastern gray squirrel is one of very few mammalian species that can descend a tree head-first. It does this by turning its feet so the claws of its hind paws are backward-pointing and can grip the tree bark.

Eastern gray squirrels build a type of nest, known as a drey, in the forks of trees, consisting mainly of dry leaves and twigs. The dreys are roughly spherical, about 30 to 60 cm in diameter and are usually insulated with moss, thistledown, dried grass, and feathers to reduce heat loss. Males and females may share the same nest for short times during the breeding season, and during cold winter spells. Squirrels may share a drey to stay warm. They may also nest in the attic or exterior walls of a house, where they may be regarded as pests, as well as fire hazards due to their habit of gnawing on electrical cables. In addition, squirrels may inhabit a permanent tree den hollowed out in the trunk or a large branch of a tree.

Eastern gray squirrels are crepuscular, or more active during the early and late hours of the day, and tend to avoid the heat in the middle of a summer day. They do not hibernate.

Eastern Grey Squirrels are important to the ecosystem by eating a lot of seeds. By caching seeds, they help in the spread of tree seeds. Also, by eating truffles, they contribute to the spread of fungal spores. In addition, they are essential to the environment because they transport parasites. The ecology is influenced by the contribution of squirrels to nature. They often collect seeds and bury them for later consumption, but they often forget where have left them, and they have effectively planted those seeds. These seeds increase the diversity of trees by bringing additional trees into the environment. They are an important key to the forest ecosystem that they belong to.


Eastern gray squirrels predators include hawks, weasels, raccoons, bobcats, foxes, domestic and feral cats, snakes, owls, and dogs. Their primary predators are hawks, owls, and snakes. Raccoons and weasels may consume a squirrel depending on where it lives in the United States. Rattlesnakes eat squirrels in California as they are searching for food in a heavy forest. The squirrel is susceptible to be eaten by a fox in the eastern region of the United States.

In its introduced range in South Africa, it has been preyed on by African harrier-hawks. When a predator is approaching the eastern gray squirrel, other squirrels will inform the squirrel of the predator by sending an acoustic signal to let the squirrel know. The speed of a squirrel makes it hard for it to be captured by the predators.

Fossil record of the eastern gray squirrel

Twenty different Pleistocene fauna specimens contain S. carolinensis, found in Florida and dated to be as early as the late Irvingtonian period. Body size seems to have increased during the early to middle Holocene and then decreased to the present size seen today.

The record life expectancy among the squirrel genus was recorded for the species Sciurus carolinensis - one captive specimen lived to the age of 23 years and 6 months.

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