68            Fox Squirrel

                          SCIURUS CAPISTRATUS.--Bosc.
                                [Sciurus niger]

                                 FOX SQUIRREL.

                                 PLATE LXVIII.

     S, magnus, colorem variens; naso auriculisque albis; pilis crassis; cauda
corpora longiore.

     Size, large; tail, longer than the body; hair, coarse; ears and nose,
white; subject to great variety in colour.


     SCIURUS CAPISTRATUS; Bosc, Ann. du Mus., vol. i., p. 281.
     SCIURUS VULPINUS? Linn. Ed. Gmel., 1788.
     SCIURUS NIGER; Catesby.
     BLACK SQUIRREL; Bertram's Travels in North America.
     SCIURUS CAPISTRATUS; Desm. Mammalogie, p. 332.
     SCIURUS VARIEGATUS; Desm. Mammalogie, p. 333.
     SCIURUS CAPISTRATUS; Cuv., Regne Animal, vol. i., p. 139.
     FOX SQUIRREL, Lawson's Carolina, p. 124.


     This is the largest and most interesting species of the genus, found in the
United States.  Although it is subject to great varieties of colour, occasioning
no little confusion by the creation of several nominal species, yet it possesses
several striking and uniform markings by which it may, through all its
varieties, be distinguished at a glance from any other.
  The Fox Squirrel is furnished with the following teeth, viz:--

                              2         00        4-4
                     Incisive -; Canine --; Molar --- = 20.
                              2         00        4-4

     But although we have thus given to this species but four grinders in the
upper jaw, which peculiarity applies to nearly all the specimens that may be
examined,--yet, in a very young animal, obtained on the 5th of April, in South
Carolina, and which had apparently left the nest but a day or two, we observed a
very minute, round, deciduous, anterior grinder on each side.  These teeth,
however, must be shed at a very early period; as in two other specimens,
obtained on the 20th of the same month, they were entirely wanting.  The teeth
of all our squirrels present so great a similarity, that it will be found
impossible to designate the species from these alone, without referring to other
peculiarities which the eye of the practical naturalist may detect.  In young
animals of this species, the tuberculous crowns on the molars are prominent and
acute; these sharp points, however, are soon worn off, and the tubercles in the
adult are round and blunt.  The first molar in the upper jaw is the smallest,
and is triangular in shape; the second and third one a little larger and square;
and the posterior one, which is about the size of the third, is rounded on its
posterior surface.  The upper incisors, which are of a deep orange colour
anteriorly, are strong and compressed, deep at their roots, flat on their sides;
in some specimens there is a groove anteriorly running longitudinally through
the middle, presenting the appearance of a double tooth; in others, this tooth
is wanting.  In the lower jaw, the anterior grinder is the smallest; the rest
increase in size to the last, which is the largest.
     Nose, obtuse; forehead, slightly arched; whiskers, a little longer than the
head; ears, rounded, covered with short hairs on both surfaces; there is
scarcely any projection of fur beyond the outer surface, as is the case in
nearly all the other species; the hair is very coarse, appearing in some
specimens geniculate; tail, broad and distichous; legs and feet, stout; and the
whole body has more the appearance of strength than of agility.


     In the grey variety of this species, which is--as far as we have
observed--the most common, the nose, extending to within four or five lines of
the eyes, the ears, feet, and belly, are white; forehead and cheeks, brownish
black; the hairs on the back are dark plumbeous near the roots, then a broad
line of cinereous, then black, and broadly tipped with white, with an occasional
black hair interspersed, especially on the neck and fore shoulder, giving the
animal a light grey appearance; the hairs of the tail are, for three-fourths of
their length, white from the roots, then a ring of black, with the tips white.
This is the variety given by Bosc and other authors as Sciurus capistratus.
     Second variety:  the Black Fox Squirrel.  Nose and ears, white; a few
light-coloured hairs on the feet; the rest of the body and tail, black; there
are, occasionally, a few white hairs in the tail.  This is the original Black
Squirrel of CATESBY and BARTRAM, (Sci. Niger.)
     Third variety.  Nose, mouth, under jaw and ears, white; head, thighs and
belly, black; back and tail, dark grey.  This is the variety alluded to by
DESMAREST, (Ency. Method, Mammalogie, 333.)
     There is a fourth variety, which is very common in Alabama, and also
occasionally seen in the upper districts of South Carolina and Georgia, which
has on several occasions been sent to us as a distinct species.  The ears and
nose, as in all the other varieties, are white.  This, indeed, is a permanent
mark running through all the varieties, by which this species may be easily
distinguished.  Head and neck, black; back, a rusty blackish brown; neck,
thighs, and belly, bright rusty colour; tail, annulated with black and red.
This is the variety erroneously considered by the author of the notes on
MCMURTRIE's "Translation of Cuvier," (see vol. i., Appendix. p. 433,) as Sciurus
     The three first noted above are common in the lower and middle districts of
South Carolina; and, although they are known to breed together, yet it is very
rare to find any specimens indicating an intermediate variety.  Where the
parents are both black, the young are invariably of the same colour--the same
may be said of the other varieties; where, on the other hand, there is one
parent of each colour, an almost equal number are of the colour of the male, the
other of the female.  On three occasions, we had an opportunity of examining the
young produced by progenitors of both colours.  The first nest contained two
black and two grey; and the third, three black and two grey.  The colour of the
young did not, in a majority of instances, correspond with that of the parent of
the same sex:  although the male parent was black, the young males were
frequently grey, and vice versa.

                                                          Inches    Lines.
     Length of head and body .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   14       5
     Length of tail vertebrae   .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   12       4
     Length of tail to tip   .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   15       2
     Length of palm and middle fore claw .  .  .  .  .  .    1       9
     Length of sole and middle hind claw .  .  .  .  .  .    2      11
     Length of fur on the back  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .    0       8
     Height of ear, posteriorly .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .    0      7


     Although there is a general similarity of habit in all the species of
Sciurus, yet the present has some peculiarities which we have never noticed in
any other.  The Fox Squirrel, instead of preferring rich low lands, thickly
clothed with timber, as is the case with the Carolina Grey Squirrel, is seldom
seen in such situations; but prefers elevated pine ridges, where the trees are
not crowded near each other, and where there is an occasional oak and hickory
interspersed.  It is also frequently found in the vicinity of rich valleys.  to
which it resorts for nuts, acorns and chinquepins, (castanea pumila,) which such
soils produce.  In some aged and partially decayed oak, this Squirrel finds a
safe retreat for itself and mate; a hollow tree of any kind is sufficient for
its purpose if Nature has prepared a hole, it is occupied, if otherwise, the
animal finds no difficulty in gnawing one or several, for its accommodation.
The tree selected is in all cases hollow, and the Squirrel only gnaws through
the outer shell in order to find a residence, which requires but little labour
and skill to render it secure and comfortable.  At other times, it takes
possession of the deserted hole of the ivory-billed woodpecker, (Picus
principalis).)  The summer duck (Anas sponsa) too, is frequently a competitor
for the same residence; contests for possession occasionally take place between
these three species, and we have generally observed, that the tenant that has
already deposited its eggs or young in such situations is seldom ejected.  The
male and female summer duck unite in chasing and beating with their wins any
Squirrel that may approach their nests, nor are they idle with their bills and
tongues, but continue biting, hissing and clapping their wings until the
intruder is expelled.  On the other hand, when the Squirrel has its young in the
hole of a tree, and is intruded on, either by a woodpecker or a summer duck, it
immediately rushes to its hole, and after having entered remains at the mouth of
it, occasionally protruding its head, and with a low angry bark keeps
possession, until the intruder, weary of the contest, leaves it unmolested.
Thus Nature imparts to each species additional spirit and vigour in defense of
its young; whilst at the same time, the intruder on the possessions of others,
as if conscious of the injustice of his acts, evinces a degree of pusillanimity
and cowardice.
     In the vicinity of the permanent residence of the Fox Squirrel, several
nests, composed of sticks, leaves and mosses, are usually seen on the pine
trees.  These are seldom placed on the summits, but in the forks, and more
frequently where several branches unite and afford a secure basis for them.
These nests may be called their summer home, for they seem to be occupied only
in fine weather, and are deserted during wintry and stormy seasons.
     In December and January, the season of sexual intercourse, the male aliases
the female for hours together on the same tree, running up one side and
descending on the other, making at the same time a low gutteral noise, that
scarcely bears any resemblance to the barking which they utter on other
occasions.  The young are produced from the beginning of March, and sometimes
earlier, to April.  The nests containing, them, which we have had opportunities
of examining, were always in hollow trees.  They receive the nourishment of the
mother for four or five weeks, when they are left to shift for themselves, but
continue to reside in the vicinity of, and even to occupy the same nests with,
their parents till autumn.  It has been asserted by several planters of
Carolina, that this species has two broods during the season.
     The food of the Fox Squirrel is various; besides acorns, and different
kinds of nuts, its principal subsistence for many weeks in autumn is the fruit
extracted from the cones of the pine, especially the long-leaved pitch pine,
(Pinus palustris.)  Whilst the green corn is yet in its milky state, this
Squirrel makes long journeys to visit the fields, and for the sake of
convenience frequently builds a temporary summer-house in the vicinity, in order
to share with the little Carolina squirrel and the crow a portion of the
delicacies and treasures of the husbandman; where he is also exposed to the
risks incurred by the thief and plunderer:  for these fields are usually guarded
by a gunner, and in this way thousands of squirrels are destroyed during the
green corn season.  The Fox Squirrel does not appear to lay up any winter stores
there appears to be no food in any of his nests, nor does he, like the red
squirrel, (Sciurus hudsonius), resort to any hoards which in the season of
abundance were buried in the earth, or concealed under logs and leaves.  During
the winter season he leaves his retreat but seldom, and then only for a little
while and in fine weather in the middle of the day.  He has evidently the power,
like the marmot and racoon, of being sustained for a considerable length of time
without much suffering in the absence of food.  When this animal makes his
appearance in winter, he is seen searching among the leaves where the wild
turkey has been busy at work, and gleaning the refuse acorns which have escaped
its search; at such times, also, this squirrel does not reject worms and insects
which he may detect beneath the bark of fallen or decayed trees.  Towards
spring, he feeds on the buds of hickory, oak, and various other trees, as well
as on several kinds of roots, especially the wild potato, (Apios tuberosa.)  As
the spring advances farther, he is a constant visitor to the black mulberry
tree, (Morus rubra,) where he finds a supply for several weeks.  From this time
till winter, the fruits of the field and forest enable him to revel in
     Most other species of this genus when alarmed in the woods immediately
betake themselves to the first convenient tree that presents itself,--not so
with the Fox Squirrel.  When he is aware of being discovered whilst on the
ground, he pushes directly for a hollow tree, which is often a quarter of a mile
distant, and it requires a good dog, a man on horseback, or a very swift runner,
to induce him to alter his course, or compel him to ascend any other tree.  When
he is silently seated on a tree and imagines himself unperceived by the person
approaching him, he suddenly spreads himself flatly on the limb, and gently
moving to the opposite side, often by this stratagem escapes detection.  When,
however, he is on a small tree, and is made aware of being observed, he utters a
few querulous barking notes, and immediately leaps to the ground, and hastens to
a more secure retreat.  If overtaken by a dog, he defends himself with great
spirit, and is often an overmatch for the small terriers which are used for the
purpose of treeing him.
     He is very tenacious of life, and an ordinary shot gun, although it may
wound him repeatedly, will seldom bring him down from the tops of the high pines
to which he retreats when pursued, and in such situations the rifle is the only
certain enemy he has to dread.
     This Squirrel is seldom seen out of its retreat early in the morning and
evening, as is the habit of other species.  He seems to be a late riser, and
usually makes his appearance at 10 or 11 o'clock, and retires to his domicile
long before evening.  He does not appear to indulge so frequently in the barking
propensities of the genus as the other and smaller species.  This note, when
heard, is not very loud, but hoarse and gutteral.  He is easily domesticated,
and is occasionally seen in cages, but is less active and sprightly than the
smaller species.
     As an article of food, the Fox Squirrel is apparently equally good with any
other species, although we have observed that the little Carolina squirrel is
usually preferred, as being more tender and delicate.  Where, however, squirrels
are very abundant, men soon become surfeited with this kind of game, and in
Carolina, even among the poorer class, it is not generally considered a great
     This species, like all the rest of the squirrels, is infested during the
summer months with a troublesome larva (Oestrus), which fastening itself on the
neck or shoulders, must be very annoying, as those most affected in this manner
are usually poor and their fur appears thin and disordered.  It is, however,
less exposed to destruction from birds of prey and wild beasts than the other
species.  It leaves its retreat so late in the morning, and retires so early in
the afternoon, that it is wholly exempt from the rapacity of owls, so
destructive to the Carolina squirrel.  We have seen it bid defiance to the
attacks of the red-shouldered hawk (Falco lineatus), the only abundant species
in the south; and it frequents high grounds and open woods, to which the fox and
wild cat seldom resort, during the middle of the day, so that man is almost the
only enemy it has to dread.

                           GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION.

     This species is said to exist sparingly in New Jersey.  We have not
observed it farther north than Virginia, nor could we find it in the mountainous
districts of that state.  In the pine forests of North Carolina, it becomes more
common.  In the middle and maritime districts of South Carolina it is almost
daily met with, although it cannot be said to be a very abundant species
anywhere.  It exists in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana.

                                GENERAL REMARKS.

     This Squirrel has been frequently described under different names.  Bosc
appears to be entitled to the credit of having bestowed on it the earliest
specific name.  GMELLIN, in 1788, named it S. vulpinus.  The black squirrel of
CATESBY is the black variety of the present species.