Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Fox Squirrel for Abigail

I once said the people don't appreciate squirrels enough. People run them over. Poison them. Shoot them. People punish them for their appetites around bird feeders. Or ignore them due to their ubiquity.

Several years ago my niece Abigail decided that Uncle Petie REALLY loves squirrels and anytime she shopped with her mother and saw anything with a squirrel on it - it ended up in the shopping basket and eventually in my home. I have a squirrel lamp, squirrel Christmas ornaments, squirrel salt and pepper shakers, squirrel books, cast iron squirrel drawer knobs, squirrel bird baths, a squirrel shirt that says "Protect Your Nuts" and the list goes on. I don't know if I ever really liked squirrels but now by default I must think squirrels are awesome.

On an Everglades trip 2 days ago - I was racing across Tamiami Trail - the first road built across the Everglades - and bringing 12 tourists out to the airboat ride when I saw a small furry woodland creature dart across the road. I yelled "Everglades Mink!" slowed the van and turned back west to get a better look. The woman in the passenger seat said calmly "it looks like a squirrel to me." And I yelled "Mangrove Fox Squirrel! My first one!"
There are three subspecies of Fox Squirrels (Sciurus niger) in the Everglades including the rare Big Cypress Fox Squirrel pictured here. (Sometimes referred to as the Mangrove Fox Squirrel and usually shouted into a microphone to tourists.) They're listed on the Florida Threatened mammal list and may soon be on the Federal Endangered Species list. Had I shown less enthusiasm, the group may have thought this just an ordinary black squirrel, but the speed at which I turned the vehicle around on a narrow 2-lane highway in the middle of the world's greatest swamp and the excitement in my voice was obviously infectious as everyone began snapping closeups of the melanistic rodent eating flowers.
The red bloom is that of the Cardinal Bromiliad and the squirrel was peeling back pieces and eating it like an Outback Steakhouse Bloomin' Onion. So cool.

Most of this subspecies of fox squirrels appear much lighter in color, possibly with orange and salt-and pepper colored fur. Habitat loss has limited their numbers and this diurnal species has to be on the lookout for birds of prey as well as eco-tourism vans.
Now when I see a squirrel - be it an Eastern Grey or a Fox Squirrel I can't help but think of my niece Abigail and how her excitement for squirrels has led to my even greater appreciation of them.
Thanks to Ma-Le for taking these photos while I helmed the van.

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  1. Wow! Congrats on such a cool find! I haven't seen a fox squirrel in about, oh...30 years or so. Cool!!

  2. Funny thing is we were in the middle of nowhere on the Trail and there is a power line right behind the squirrel. All squirrels love 'em!

  3. Now that I've been in the Funmobile on this same road with Jungle Pete and Ma-Le, I can almost feel the wheels of the van pulling the U-turn with exuberance. The Millers would have cheered at this cool black squirrel, for sure!! A big hello from snowy white VT.

  4. WOW! Pete, this is awesome -- really a nice series of photos of it, too. 3 subspecies there, huh?
    Would you recommend any of your squirrel books? I have Long's Squirrels: A Wildlife Handbook, and North American Tree Squirrels, by Steele and Koprowski. And the Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, by Beatrix Potter, of course.


  5. That is so awesome! Abigail will be very excited - both about the squirrel and that the blog was about her. You should appreciate how many squirrel items have remained on store shelves much to Abigail's dissapointment - "But Uncle Petie would really like that - it's got squirrels on it". By the way, thanks again for the squirrel song which she sings at random verbatim ("I want to whip out my...squirrel"). She makes me play it for all her friends. Surprisingly, they've never heard it before - go figure.

  6. Of all of th squirrel items I have - I don't have any squirrel books. (I'm not asking for one - just stating a fact in response to Susan's comment!)

  7. Squirrels collection is not one of Junglepete's exageration, its all true :)

    I'm glad the pictures were acceptable!

  8. In the event that you are offended by squirrel nudity -

  9. Hello,
    Happened to come across your blog searching mangrove fox squirrel> I have a number of images of two individials on the road to Flamingo just N of maintenance yard rd. I nearly hit one last Thursday (10/21/11) at teh same spot (this one had white tipped tail) the other priors had all black, and one with white chest spot.

    When I told rangers that I "got out of my car and took a lot of pics" they thought I was daft. One image made it into Outdoor Florida article.
    NICE SHOT with the bromo!

    If you want to contact me