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NATURAL HISTORY

DELMARVA PENINSULA FOX SQUIRREL } Sciurus niger cinereus
FAMILY: Sciuridae

DESCRIPTION: The Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel is a large, heavy-bodied tree squirrel with an unusually full, fluffy tail. The fox squirrel is frosty silver to slate gray with a white belly and can grow to be 30 inches long, including 15 inches of tail.

HABITAT: Delmarva fox squirrels prefer mature forest of both hardwood and pine trees with a minimum amount of understory and ground cover.

RANGE: Historically, this squirrel occurred in southeastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, south-central New Jersey, Maryland and the Virginia portion of the Delmarva Peninsula. By the turn of the century, the squirrel had disappeared from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia, and by 1936 it had disappeared from Delaware as well. The remaining populations persist naturally in portions of four counties on the eastern shore of Maryland: Kent, Queen Annes, Talbot and Dorchester counties. Translocations have occurred in several other counties on the eastern shore of Maryland; in Sussex County, Delaware; and on the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia.

MIGRATION: This squirrel is nonmigratory, with a home range of 10 to 50 acres.

BREEDING: These squirrels prefer to make their dens in the hollows of trees but will also make nests of leaves and twigs in the crotches of trees, in tangles of vines on a trunk or at the ends of large branches. Mating occurs in late winter and early spring, with gestation lasting about 44 days and most young born in February, March and April. Litters average one to six young.

LIFE CYCLE: Fox squirrels live an average of six to seven years, with the record being 18 years.

FEEDING: Delmarvas feed heavily on nuts, primarily from oak, hickory, sweetgum, walnut and loblolly pine trees. In the summer and early fall, the squirrels eat mature green pine cones. Over the course of winter they may switch, if possible, from pine and oaks in early winter to maples and oaks in late winter. During spring, they feed on tree buds and flowers and will also eat fungi, insects, fruit and seeds.

THREATS: Current causes of this squirrel’s decline include loss and fragmentation of habitat due to logging, agriculture, urban and commercial development, and road construction.

POPULATION TREND: In 1967, when the squirrel was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, it survived in only 10 percent of its former range in four eastern Maryland counties.   Translocated populations now exist on one remote island off the Virginia coast and in Sussex County, Delaware, and the fox squirrel has re-expanded its range into additional Maryland counties. But with suitable habitat still under threat, the squirrel’s recovering numbers are vulnerable.

Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel photo courtesy Flickr Creative Commons/Larry Meade