The fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) weighs from one to three pounds, and exhibit color variations which range from a buff color to gray, and in some instances black. The under parts are usually lighter, and typical specimens have white noses and ears with black faces and feet. They are noted for their long, bushy tails and for their strong hind legs which allows them to leap easily from place to place. The skull of the fox squirrel has 20 teeth: gray squirrels have 22 teeth. The fox squirrel probably was named after the fox because of its comparatively large size and peculiar way of running along the ground which gives the appearance of a small fox.
The fox squirrel may be found throughout Florida in open woods, pine and cypress stands, and mangrove swamps, but they are protected from hunting throughout the state. Of the four subspecies found in Florida, two are listed as protected species. Sherman's Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger shermani, a species of special concern, is found in the open piney woods of central and Northeastern Florida. The Big Cypress Fox Squirrel Sciurus niger avicennia, a threatened species is found from the Everglades region, in Lee county, to the southern part of Dade county. Fox squirrels in the western panhandle belong to a less vulnerable, more widespread subspecies.
Mating occurs in late winter and midsummer, and young are usually born in late winter/early spring and in the summer.. Females breed when they are about one year old and produce one litter a year. Gestation (the period in which offspring are carried in the uterus) is approximately 44 days, and litter size may vary from one to five, but usually two or three. Young are weaned at two to three months.
The diet of the fox squirrel consists primarily of plant material such as nuts, seeds, fungi, fruit and buds. Pine seed is their favorite. They have also been known to occasionally eat animal material such as insects and bird eggs.
Fox squirrels are much less numerous than gray squirrels, but can sometimes be observed foraging for food in pastures or openings adjacent to forested areas. They spend more time on the ground than in trees and often attempt to escape enemies by running rather than climbing.
Image Credit: Steve Glass