Southern Fox Squirrel

This week for Flora and Fauna Friday we have our largest arboreal rodent, the Southern Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger niger).

Fox Squirrels are the largest species of tree squirrel in North America. They’re twice the size of your run of the mill Eastern Gray Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis. (Although I’ve seen some pizza-stealing Gray Squirrels upstate that give them a run for their money.) In South Carolina se have a distinct Southern subspecies. Most are a salt-and-pepper gray on the back and tail with a black mask across the face and white ears, nose and belly. Fox Squirrels also come in a black morph that retains the white ears and nose and mottled tail but otherwise has a pure black coat. Fox Squirrels spend more time on the ground then most tree squirrels. Here they forage for food. Like most Squirrels, they subsist off of a diet of nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetation, mushrooms, insects, and the occasional skeleton. Fox Squirrels get their name from both their size and appearance. Both the red-morph of the north and gray-morph of the south, along with their bushy tails and considerable heft, resemble our native Gray Fox.

Fox Squirrels are found throughout the Eastern United States but are far more common up North. Here in the southeast, their far less common and in South Carolina they’re mostly restricted to the coastal plain. They’re mostly restricted to mature Pine forests, particularly savannas, but are also common in bottomland forests and the mixed hardwood-coniferous forests on barrier islands. Southern Fox Squirrels depend on prescribed fire for much of their habitat in South Carolina. Prescribed fire management mimics the natural burn cycles of the contiguous pine forests that historically made up the heart of the southeast. Their darkened gray-black fur camouflages them against the ashen ground and the fire knocks back vegetation, allowing them to forage more easily.

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