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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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BEVA gives vets access to free membership for 3 months

News Story 1
 BEVA has announced that it is cutting membership renewal charges for the next three months in order to support all veterinary professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Memberships for all existing BEVA members will be extended until 30 June 2020. Veterinary professionals who are not members of BEVA will also be able to sign up for a free membership until 30 June 2020.

BEVA president Tim Mair said: "In this extraordinary time of global crisis our profession, as with many industries, is under immense pressure. By offering free membership we are giving equine vets easy access to a wealth of supportive resources and online CPD."

To sign up please visit the BEVA website.

Image (c) BEVA. 

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LOVE Gorgie Farm seeking veterinary volunteers

LOVE Gorgie Farm in Edinburgh is looking for people with veterinary and animal care experience, who would be interested in volunteering to help care for its animals during these difficult times.

The community-owned charity farm opened to the public only last month, but decided to close temporarily amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Its three-person team is working to care for the animals behind the scenes and the farm is now operating as a food bank for the public, delivering free breakfasts to local school children.

In an effort to build a contingency plan to secure the welfare of its animals, LOVE Gorgie Farm is looking for volunteers who would be able to step in if any team members fell sick or needed to self-isolate.

Those interested in volunteering are asked to contact gorgie@l-o-v-e.org.uk