New studies on the origins of melanism in grey squirrels

A wild melanic (black/dark brown) introduced grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) was first seen in the UK in Woburn, Bedfordshire in 1912. It is now believed there may be as many as 25,000 in East Anglia. Recently published research by Helen McRobie from Anglia Ruskin University UK, and colleagues from USA, Nancy Moncrief and Nicholas Mundy, suggest that a pigment gene for black fur found in  grey squirrels may have originated in North America from interbreeding with the closely related and sympatric Fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) which carries the gene – see Publications for full reference. (Fox squirrels have not been introduced to the UK.) Melanic squirrels are common in North America and black fur may offer a thermal advantage enabling squirrels to inhabit regions with very cold winters (tree squirrels are active all winter and do not hibernate). (BBC News, Peterborough Telegraph, Mail Online, The Telegraph, Evening Express Metro, Scitech Europe). Of note is that melanism also occurs in native red squirrels Sciurus vulgaris, especially in mountainous and high latitude regions in Eurasia.

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