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Species Description

Eastern Fox Squirrel

Sciurus niger


Species Image

Classification

Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Sciuridae

Description

Quite variable. Usually rusty yellow with a pale yellow to orange belly. May be variously colored with mixtures of yellow, white and black, with black face, white nose and ears, and a whitish or buff belly. Sometimes solid black (called melanistic), or gray suffused with black. The largest of Georgia's arboreal squirrels, the Fox Squirrel averages from 63.5 - 81.3 cm (25 - 32 in) in total length. A long, bushy tail bordered with tawny-tipped hairs.

Life Cycle

The Fox Squirrel breeds in December and January and again in May and June. During these breeding periods, several males may pusue a female up and down branches and from tree to tree in what is called a "mating chase." The young are born after a 45-day gestation period. At 2 months of age, the young have developed enough to leave the nest and climb about. Shortly afterward they become independent, but late summer offspring may remain with the female for upwards of 3 months.

Natural History

The Fox Squirrel occurs in a wide variety of forest types, but is least abundant in mature, pine-dominated forests, and most abundant in mature oak-hickory forests, which produce the greatest amount of food in the form of acorns and nuts. Other foods for the Fox Squirrel include fruits, seeds, mushrooms, and insects. When compared to Gray Squirrel activity periods, the Fox Squirrel comes out later in the morning, beds down earlier, and is more active in the middle of the day. A Fox Squirrel spends a greater amount of time foraging on the ground, and is considered to be slower-moving than a Gray Squirrel. This species builds nests in hollow tree cavities for rearing young and for a winter retreat. It also builds a nest of leaves and twigs high in upper tree branches to use as a temporary shelter during the warmer months. Nests are lined with soft plant fibers and leaves. Home ranges can vary from 1 -10 acres (0.4 - 4 hectares) in size. Owls, hawks, foxes, the Coyote, and the Bobcat are major predators of the Fox Squirrel. When threatened or alarmed, the Fox Squirrel makes a barking call or chatter while rapidly waving its tail from side to side. The Gray Squirrel shows similar behavior, but its call is of higher pitch. Average lifespan of a wild Fox Squirrel is 4 - 7 years.

Range

Eastern Fox Squirrel Region Map The Fox Squirrel ranges across the forested eastern one half of the United States, and is found throughout Georgia. This attractive species has also been introduced in several western cities, including Seattle, Washington and San Franciso, California.

Conservation Status

A regulated hunting season in Georgia extends from mid-August through the end of February.

Similar Species

The Gray Squirrel is smaller and has a white border on its tail.