Sciurus niger Photo Fiona Sunquist ©
SPECIES OF SPECIAL CONCERN
The fox squirrel – named for its striking fox-like tail - is the largest squirrel in the western hemisphere. Weighing in at about 1 kg, it is about twice the size of a gray squirrel. Fox squirrels are highly variable in color, and their coats can be anywhere from creamy tan to all black.
Fox squirrels prefer open park-like habitats with scattered mature pine trees and an open understory. Fire maintained longleaf pine-turkey oak sandhills are optimal habitat. In some parts of southwest Florida fox squirrels are quite abundant on golf courses that have retained patches of open pine-oak forest.
Fox squirrels are strictly diurnal, and usually do not begin foraging until mid-morning. Long leaf pine seeds and turkey oak and live oak acorns are among their favorite foods and they also eat fungi, buds, bulbs and insects. From May to October these squirrels cut green longleaf pine cones and strip off the bracts to get at the seeds. You can tell where a fox squirrel has been feeding because of the large piles of cone pieces on the ground.
Fox squirrels use tree cavities for sleeping quarters and birth dens, but they also construct large leaf nests and stick nests in some areas. They are solitary, except during the breeding season, during which time mating chases sometimes occur. Several males will chase a female, competing for the opportunity to mate. Females conceive in November and 2-3 young are born in January. The young remain in the nest for about 75 days, and are weaned at 90 days.
Sadly, one of the most likely places to see a fox squirrel is on the side of the road as a roadkill. These big, beautiful squirrels are often hit by cars as they try to cross country roads. Sherman’s Fox Squirrel and the Big Cypress Fox Squirrel are listed as threatened by Florida state authorities.
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