Cookie use on MRCVSonline
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we will assume that you are happy to receive all cookies.
If you would like to forward this story on to a friend, simply fill in the form below and click send.

Your friend's email:
Your email:
Your name:
 
 
Send Cancel

Study sheds light on why some grey squirrels are black
Black squirrels are the same species as grey squirrels, the only difference being their fur colour. 

Findings point to faulty pigment gene obtained from fox squirrels

Scientists at Anglia Ruskin University have shed new light on the origins of black squirrels.

Published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, the study found that the black fur is caused by the grey squirrel having a faulty pigment gene - a gene also found in the closely-related fox squirrel.

The fox squirrel, which is native to North America, also has black variants. Testing on grey and fox squirrels across the US and Canada revealed that other “signatures” on the mutated gene are more closely related to the fox squirrel.

Researchers say this suggests that the mutation first arose in the fox squirrel and was passed to the grey squirrel through interbreeding.

“Squirrels take part in ‘mating chases’ where a female squirrel is pursued by lots of male squirrels and eventually one male mates with the female,” explained study leader Dr Helen McRobie.

People have spotted ‘mixed species’ mating chases, with a mix of grey and fox squirrels pursuing a female. The most likely explanation for the black version of the gene being found in the grey squirrel is that a male black fox squirrel mated with a female grey squirrel.”

She continued: “The fact black grey squirrels have become so common right across North America is possibly because black fur offers a thermal advantage, helping them inhabit regions with extremely cold winters. This may have contributed to the expansion of the grey squirrel’s range during the past 11,000 years, following the end of the most recent ice age, helping them spread further north into Canada.”

Black squirrels in the UK are believed to have escaped a private zoo after being imported from the US. They are the same species as grey squirrels, the only difference being their fur colour.

The first wild black squirrel was recorded in Woburn, Bedfordshire, in 1912. Today, they can be found across much of south-east England.  

Become a member or log in to add this story to your CPD history

Regional Representatives nominations sought

News Story 1
 Seven new regional representatives are being sought by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) to speak for vets from those regions and to represent their views to BVA Council.

The opportunities are available in in the North-East, Yorkshire & Humber, East Midlands, West Midlands, London, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Representatives from all sectors of the veterinary profession are urged to apply.

BVA president Daniella Dos Santos, said: "Our regional representatives are integral to that mission and to the activities of Council - contributing to effective horizon scanning on matters of veterinary policy and providing an informed steer to BVA’s Policy Committee.” 

Click here for more...
News Shorts
Livestock Antibody Hub receives funding boost

The Pirbright Institute has received US $5.5 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to form a Livestock Antibody Hub aimed at supporting animal and human health. The work will bring together researchers from across the UK utilise research outcomes in livestock disease and immunology.

Dr Doug Brown, chief executive of the British Society for Immunology, commented: “The UK is a world leader in veterinary immunology research, and this transformative investment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will drive the next chapter of innovation in developing new treatments and prevention options against livestock diseases".