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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