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Of black squirrels and white bighorns

Comments by Kim

December 16, 2012
Minot Daily News

A white bighorn sheep has been seen in Theodore Roosevelt National Park-North Unit. So too have black squirrels in Minot. Both are of interest.

"I have heard about a white lamb, but have not seen it," said Brett Wiedmann, North Dakota Game and Fish Department bighorn sheep biologist in Dickinson. "It would be rare, but not unprecedented, to see a white sheep in general."

Certainly white bighorns are an oddity and always attract interest. Some are known to grow to full adults. I have not seen the white bighorn attached to one of the bands in the T.R. National Park area, but will likely attempt to get a look at it sometime in the future.

Article Photos

Kim Fundingsland/MDN
This black squirrel is one of many residing in Minot’s Oak Park. Black squirrels are found in other areas of the city as well.

Black squirrels, on the other hand, require very little effort to see. They can be found in several Minot neighborhoods and in good numbers in Oak Park. A reader sent me an email asking about the origin and rarity of black squirrels, wondering if they were "mutations" or escapees from the Minot Zoo during a flood in the 1920s.

I don't know about the zoo story, but have learned a little bit about black squirrels. They are said to be a melanistic subgroup of the Eastern gray squirrel. Apparently they were somewhat rare in the early 1900s. Today they are found in much greater abundance, particularly in the Midwest and Northeast.

A story appearing in the Washington Post in 2005 credits the origin of black squirrels to 18 of them that were imported from Canada during the Teddy Roosevelt presidency. Descendent of those squirrels can now be found throughout the Washington, D.C., area.

Scientists look at black squirrels a bit differently, saying they are an example of natural selection at work. Apparently black squirrels are better equipped to handle cold weather than gray or red squirrels.

Whatever the reason, black squirrels are no longer the rarity they were once perceived to be. Significant populations of them can be found in Massachusetts, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey and Ontario. Britain and Sweden have black squirrels too. So does Minot.



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