The future is looking black for Grey Squirrels as numbers of darker variety soars in UK.
MailOnline. 31st January 2012
After almost wiping out its red cousins in the
UK, it seems the grey squirrel is getting a taste of its own medicine.
The black squirrel population is soaring and experts say it could eventually be the dominant variety.
There are now believed to be at least 25,000 – mostly in East Anglia – but isolated sightings have been recorded elsewhere.
Black squirrels in the UK - vermin !
The squirrels were introduced in 1912 - scientists now aim to find out how far they have spread in the past 100 years.
The spread of the black variant is the biggest change in squirrel demographics since the red population was devastated 50 years ago.
The grey squirrel was able to displace the native red because it is larger and better able to compete for food. It also infected the reds with a disease.
Once in the millions, red squirrel numbers have declined to just 120,000 in the UK.
The English population, found in isolated pockets in the North, East Anglia and the Isle of Wight, is down to 25,000 – the same as the black squirrel but about to be overtaken.
Black squirrel feeding.
Scientists believe that the squirrels
have spread around 50 miles in 100 years - a contrast to grey squirrels, which
now number two million in the British isles
The black squirrel is actually the same native North American species as the grey but its colour is the result of a genetic mutation.
Scientists are not sure why the black variety is proving more successful. Research will focus on whether it is fitter or more aggressive.
Around 100 grey squirrels were introduced into Britain in the 1870s as an exotic pet. There are now two million. In the 1880s, around a dozen black squirrels escaped from a private zoo in Woburn, Bedfordshire.
The first one spotted in the wild was on the outskirts of Letchworth in Hertfordshire in 1912.
They compete with the greys for food and, when the two varieties mate, the black gene is dominant. Marina Pacheco, of the Mammal Society, said: ‘All of the grey squirrels could be black in a few decades.’
Scientists at Anglia Ruskin University have
called on the public to report sightings to the website www.blacksquirrel
Geneticist Helen McRobbie said: ‘Numbers have risen steadily over the years and they have been spotted in Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire.
‘But we don’t have evidence that they are living elsewhere in the British Isles.
‘Therefore it would be great if as many people as possible can submit their sightings.’
Wikipedia: Black squirrels can also be found in Britain where grey squirrels were first introduced from North America at the end of the 19th century. The origin of the UK's black individuals has been a topic of dispute, with initial research indicating that melanistic individuals are descendants of black zoo escapees. Regardless of their origins, the melanistic population in the UK continues to grow, and around the towns of Letchworth, Stevenage and Hitchin, as well as nearby villages such as Meppershall in England, black squirrels are now as abundant as grey individuals. Black squirrels have been present and studied in Cambridgeshire since the 1990s; in the village of Girton three quarters of the squirrel population is black.
Editors note: So they are still vermin ? -