Fox Squirrel

Sciurus niger Linnaeus

Color photo by Lawrence R. Heaney.
   Copywrite 2001. All rights reserved.

Description:   Fox squirrels are slightly larger and more reddish than gray squirrels, with an orange rather than whitish fringe on tail. It can be distinguished from other Kansas members of its family by: 1) tawny brown to reddish-orange upperparts which are grizzled with gray, 2) pale rufous or orange underparts, 3) prominent ears colored ochraceous inside, and 4) tufts behind the ears being fulvous rather than white as in the gray squirrel. Young are paler than adults, which are alike in both summer and winter. The fox squirrel, and tree squirrels in general, differ from ground squirrels in lacking cheek pouches, and in possessing longer and bushier tails.

Size:   Adults may attain the following dimensions; total length 460-700 mm; tail 180-330 mm; hind foot 51-82 mm; ear 24-32 mm; weight 510-1360 grams.

Range and Habitat:   Fox squirrels are common residents of wooded areas in most of the state, especially in the open oak hickory groves in the east and the riparian communities in the middle and western part of Kansas.

Reproduction:   In Kansas, breeding occurs in January and February, and again in June. As in gray squirrels, mating chases are conspicuous. Females two years old and older may produce two litters per year, whereas young females born the previous year have only one litter. After a gestation period of about 45 days the female gives birth to a litter of one to seven young (usually three). These newborn young have proportionately large heads and feet. The young are born without hair and their eyes and ears are closed. The ears open in 25 days whereas the eyes are not opened until 32 days. At two months the young are out of the nest and capable of climbing. Shortly afterward they become independent. The young remain with the female for three months, or longer if they are born in late summer. Sexual maturity is attained at approximately ten months. In the breeding season the males have large black scrotums whereas in non-breeding periods the testes are abdominal. Females have eight nipples.

Habits:   Fox squirrels spend considerable time foraging on the ground, where they move with a rolling walk or hop, searching for food with its keen senses of smell and sight. It caches nuts, especially in autumn, in shallow holes in the ground, and is important in seed dispersal. If approached during foraging activities it will retreat to the nearest tree. Once in the protection of the tree it will hide behind trunk or limb until the intruder passes by. Like gray squirrels, fox squirrels commonly rest on horizontal limbs with the tail arched over the animal's back. Males have a larger home range than females. Home range size is:

Home ranges overlap broadly except for defended core areas containing the nest and food supply. Each squirrel builds one or more nests of leaves wedged between forked branches high in trees where it rests during the hotter parts of the day. A more permanent summer nest for rearing young is supported with small twigs. Some nests can be built in an afternoon; others take longer to construct. In winter the fox squirrel prefers the protection of hollow trees with small openings in which a nest of leaves and plant fibers provides protection from subfreezing temperatures, but occasionally it inhabits external leaf nests. Fox squirrels do not hibernate and are active in rain and after snowfalls, when limbs are covered with snow and ice. If disturbed the fox squirrel gives a barking call, which has a lower pitch than the call of the gray squirrel. It also makes a grunting sound, and chatters its teeth while waving its tail from side to side.

Food:   Nuts of all kinds including black walnuts, acorns, and hickory nuts are the principal food of the fox squirrel, especially in the season of nut production. Wild fruit, buds and inner bark of trees and shrubs, mushrooms, seeds, green shoots, insects, and some small vertebrates are also eaten. Winter survival of squirrels is greatly affected by the size of the Fall mast.

Remarks:   Owls, red-tailed hawks, foxes, and coyotes are the principal predators of fox squirrels. Longevity in the wild for females is up to 12 years; males may live up to 8 years. In captivity this squirrel may live for thirteen years. As with gray squirrels, fox squirrels develop scabies from infestations of mange mites.


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