Ask the Naturalist

Are Black Squirrels Common in the Bay Area?

February 20, 2014

Black squirrels, such as the one above, are a color morph of the eastern gray squirrel — an introduced species.

Color morphs are a common form of polymorphism, which is the presence of two or more distinct characteristics within a single interbreeding population. Seasonal changes in coloration such as that of the short-tailed weasel, which possesses a white coat in the winter, or genetic conditions such as albinism are not considered color polymorphism.

Juan-Carlos Solis, director of education at Wildcare, said that black squirrels are not common in California but when they are seen it’s more likely in urban areas and parks.

“Eastern grays (regardless of coat color) are prevalent only in urban areas and parks in California, and not in more rural areas away from human habitation,” he said. “Their association with humans appears to be the key to their survival and not any variation in color and/or other traits.”

Three color morphs in one litter of the Eastern Gray Squirrel; black (melanistic), gray and blonde. Photo: Melanie Piazza
Three color morphs in one litter of the Eastern Gray Squirrel; black (melanistic), gray and blonde. Photo: Melanie Piazza

Wildcare’s wildlife rehabilitation hospital has seen a few dark brown or black squirrels, around four blondes and recently, several mottled gray, white and red squirrels most of which have come from San Anselmo. They have also encountered blonde and silver-coated racoons.

Unlike eastern grays, it is unusual for western gray squirrels — native to California — to display color polymorphism.

Read more about color polymorphism here.

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