It's not strange to see squirrels running around Sioux Falls. You can see one in neighborhoods all over town tempting death by indecisively running back and forth in the middle of streets. But you don't see a black squirrel every day. I have seen one a lot recently.

Black squirrels are not as rare as moose are in South Dakota, but they aren't exactly common either. I've seen them in my neighborhood in the southeastern part of Sioux Falls, and also randomly in other parts of town. Over the last month or so I have seen one hanging out near our studios. Today it was climbing the tree right outside my office.

The most common squirrel in South Dakota is the eastern fox squirrel, according to the Department of Game, Fish, and Parks. They are found everywhere except in the northwestern corner of the state.

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What's the deal with the black squirrels then? The short version is that they are most likely the same as all the other squirrels in town except they are black. Of course, there is quite a bit more detail to that.

According to a study done in the United Kingdom, black squirrels are a fox squirrel that has a gene that mutates and turns the fur black instead of the reddish-brown color we are used to. The gene has spread to eastern gray squirrels as well, which are found in states east of South Dakota.

It turns out that the black fur gene has an advantage. Dark colors absorb heat from the sun better than lighter colors and helps them to survive super cold winters. It is thought that the evolutionary trait is sticking around because of that.

 

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