DATELINE – May 23, 2020 – Rains County
Fox Squirrels come in a number of different color mutations. Normally, these charming little rodents are agouti-gray with rufus underparts. Occasionally, Fox Squirrels can be found sporting unusual colors… albino white, piebald patches, blondes and reds are also possibilities. Over the years, I’ve come across and photographed most of these varieties right here in the the metroplex. But, there has been one color morph that has eluded me—the rare, black, melanistic Fox Squirrel.
Melanism is a genetic trait—an abnormality something akin to the more familiar albinism. Melanism manifests as an excess in melanin pigmentation, as opposed to the lack of this pigment that occurs with albinos. A melanistic Fox Squirrel will present as a black or near black color morph.
During the time that I have been keeping this website, I have received a number of reports about black Fox Squirrels in the metroplex. We have a LOT of Fox Squirrels here in Dallas/Fort Worth, so it is not surprising that an unusual mutation will appear from time to time. Unfortunately, all of these reports were fleeting in nature—one time observations with no possibility for followups. For whatever reason, I’ve never quite had the right opportunity to pursue photographing one of these unusual squirrels.
All that changed this past weekend when an old friend reached out to let me know that a strange black squirrel had been visiting her backyard bird feeder with some regularity. A cellphone picture confirmed the report, and quickly I made plans for a visit!
This quest for this one-of-a-kind wildlife encounter led me just east of the metroplex to a small town in Rains County. I arrived at my friend’s house late in the afternoon, and after catching up a bit, we stationed ourselves on the back porch in a place with a clear view of the busy bird feeder.
According to my friend, this stealthy little ninja-squirrel was making a habit of raiding her bird feeder. He was almost guaranteed to make at least one daily appearance. There were several hours of daylight left. We might have to wait for a while, but I felt good about our chances.
In the meanwhile, my friend and I sat and talked and photographed the nice variety of birds that continually stopped by the feeder. This is an approach to wildlife photography that I rarely pursue—the sit and wait technique. But I have to admit, that under these conditions, it was quite nice!
Time passed quickly, and it wasn’t long before the sun was setting behind us. With no sign of the squirrel, we almost called it a day on several occasions. But the comfortable spring breeze and beautiful views of the East Texas countryside made it easy to keep waiting.
Sure enough, the rare and unique critter came bounding across the yard with just minutes of daylight to spare. He paused briefly out in the lawn—at a distance—to munch on some seed or nut or such. Afterwards, he jumped on the nearest trunk and headed into the tree tops for the night. The entire sighting lasted just a handful of minutes! See below for a collection of this unique critter’s photographs…