Being residents of Pennsylvania, we are fortunate to have a rich diversity of both plant and animal life. Having lived here for thirty-two years, I assumed that I had either seen or heard the majority of our wildlife present in Pennsylvania.
I began my employment here at the Pocono Environmental Education Center just under two years ago. The day was a mix of learning about the center and learning about the special animals located around PEEC. Outside the main building, we have several birdfeeders that attract different species of birds and squirrels. As I headed out to the bird feeder there were several gray squirrels hanging from the feeders, which for people who have birdfeeders in their backyard is a regular occurrence. Amongst the feeding frenzy of the gray squirrels there was a black cloud hovering close by. That black cloud turned out to be a black squirrel. I watched in awe because this was the first one I had ever seen. Realizing that I was witnessing something truly unique, it made me want to learn more about this special creature.
Black squirrels are found throughout the province of Ontario Canada. However pockets of black squirrels can be found in Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Black squirrels are thought to be a color phase of the gray squirrel and are not considered a separate species. Both black and gray squirrels can be born in one litter, but the black strain is the dominant one when they interbreed. As with gray squirrels, black squirrels do not hibernate even during the harshest winters. The black squirrel's coat is unusually thick and glossy which helps in repelling water and the dark color of their fur helps in absorbing the sunlight, keeping them warm throughout the winter. In Pennsylvania, these squirrels can be found throughout the year but are more prevalent in the autumn and winter months.
Next time you see a black squirrel visiting your bird feeder or back yard, take some time to appreciate that you are witnessing something truly unique to the state of Pennsylvania.