Gray Squirrel

EASTERN GRAY SQUIRREL

Photo Credit: Dan Brothers

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Sciurus carolinensis

OTHER NAMES:  Cat squirrel and migratory squirrel

DESCRIPTION:  The eastern gray squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis, is a medium size tree squirrel that ranges from 16 to 20 inches in length and weighs one to one and one-half pounds.  Both sexes appear to be gray in color.  However, their hair is actually a mix of black, white, and brown banding on each individual strand.  Their underside is white with some cinnamon color flanks on the face and sides just behind the front shoulder.  Each of the tail hairs is tipped with white and often lighter gray than its body.    

DISTRIBUTION:  The eastern gray squirrel ranges from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes and parts of Canada and from the East Coast to just west of the Mississippi River.  It has also been introduced in California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Montana.

HABITAT:  The eastern gray squirrel can be found anywhere they can find suitable food, water, and cover.  This animal is very common among hardwood and mixed pine/hardwood forest, city parks, and residential neighborhoods.

FEEDING HABITS:  Gray squirrels are most active for two hours after sunrise and for two to five hours before sunset.  During this time, squirrels tend to move more along the ground using their sense of smell to find food.  The gray squirrel’s feeding habits are seasonal.  During the winter months, they prefer acorns, nuts, and other seeds of a variety of hardwood and pine species. In the spring and summer months, they may eat a variety of plant buds, insects, agricultural crops, or bone.

LIFE HISTORY:  The eastern gray squirrel has two breeding periods per year – one  around December to February and the other around May to June.  During these months, this animal is a promiscuous breeder.  Essentially, both sexes breed with multiple partners.  Competition is the tool used to determine which males will mate.   Once female gray squirrels are bred, they have a 42 to 46 day gestation period.  At the end of this time, the female gives birth to a litter of two to four altricial young in a nest made of  leaves and twigs about 30 to 45 feet above the ground or in a tree den.  Altricial young are helpless and dependant upon maternal care.  They are hairless except for whisker-like hair around their nose and mouth.  These hairs are used as feelers.  Newborn gray squirrels weigh about one-half ounce.  Females start to wean their young at about seven weeks of age and the weaning process is usually completed by the tenth week of life.  Young squirrels reach physical and sexual maturity at about nine and 14 months of age, respectively. 

REFERENCES

Hopkins, J. 1982.  Wild Mammals of North America.  John Hopkins University Press.  Baltimore, MD.  pp 209-229         

Lawniczak,  M. 2002 “Sciurus carolinensis”(Online), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed June 27, 2005 at  animaldiversity.ummz.imich.edu.

South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, 2001.  “Eastern Gray Squirrel”(Online). Accessed July 27, 2005 at http://www.csc.noaa.gov/acebasin/specgal/squirrel.htm.

Author: Griff Johnson, Wildlife Biologist – Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries


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