What’s the deal with the black squirrels?

The new semester has started at the College of Wooster and invariably some of the new students and faculty are curious about the black squirrels that are common around our campus. So, what’s the deal? Here goes: the black squirrels are the same species as the gray ones (Sciurus carolinensis – the eastern gray squirrel) but possess a certain form of a gene that colors their fur black. Less than two years ago, a research team in the UK identified the specific form of the gene that causes the different pigmentation (at least in UK gray squirrels, which were introduced there in the 19th century from North America and now are associated with the decline of Britain’s native squirrels). Many other mammals also have melanistic forms (i.e., all black individuals: wolves, pigs, mice, jaguars, etc.). For some reason, the black squirrels are fairly localized (they only occur in certain areas) but are often common where they do occur. Recent surveys on our campus have shown that black individuals outnumber the gray ones by about a 3:1 margin, on average. The black and gray ones do mate and produce offspring with one another.

So, in a nutshell(!) – that’s the deal with the black squirrels!


(Note that there are two other squirrel species on campus, too. The fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) is larger, has a rusty orange belly and is sometimes seen amongst the gray squirrels but is less common. The red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) is rarely seen and is usually associated with hemlock trees, especially near the President’s house.)


Back from Trinidad and Tobago

I recently returned from a research trip to Trinidad and Tobago. Five undergraduates and myself spent 10 days based out of Charlotteville (Tobago) working on projects on frog ecology, evolution and conservation. We got up early, stayed up late and ate many mangoes and fried plantains. Stephanie Andrus, Travis Calkins, Aaron Novick, Alex Vanko and Ned Weakland (all COW class of ’12) worked hard to help advance our knowledge of Caribbean frogs. More to come….

My New Web Site

I’m putting together a new website. It’s frustrating but hopefully will be worth the time! Enjoy the pictures.