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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.  

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Rare chimp birth announced at Edinburgh Zoo

News Story 1
 The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) welcomed the birth of a critically endangered western chimpanzee on Monday 3 February at Edinburgh Zoo's Budongo Trail.

The baby girl will be named in the coming days through a public vote, and staff will carry out a paternity test during its first health check to determine the father.

Mother Heleen's first infant, Velu, was born in 2014, making this new baby only the second chimpanzee born in Scotland for more than 20 years.

Budongo Trail team leader Donald Gow said: "While we celebrate every birth, this one is particularly special because our new arrival is a critically endangered Western chimpanzee, a rare subspecies of chimpanzee."

Image (c) RZSS/Donald Gow. 

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BEVA offering free membership to vet students

The British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) is offering free membership to veterinary students. As part of a new initiative with the aim of encouraging more veterinary professionals into equine practice.

According to BEVA, less than one in ten veterinary students choose to work in equine practice. The association hopes that this initiative will provide insight into the field and the benefits of a career in equine medicine.

Benefits of membership include:
▪ access to a network of nearly 3,000 members
▪ special student rates to attend BEVA Congress
▪ online access to BEVA's Equine Veterinary Education (EVE) journal
▪ free access to the association's online learning platform
▪ free access to BEVA's practical veterinary apps
▪ exclusive discounts on a range of things from cinema tickets to grocery shopping.

BEVA will be releasing a series of short videos over the next few months from BEVA Council members, explaining what inspired them to work in equine practice.

Image (c) BEVA.