Mystery Solved: Scientists Have Figured Out Why Some Squirrels Are Black

Rena-Marie/iStock via Getty Images
Rena-Marie/iStock via Getty Images

It can be something of a surprise to see an animal sporting a fresh coat of paint. Blue lobsters occasionally surface after being caught in traps. A pink dolphin was spotted in Louisiana in 2007 (and several times since). In the Chinese province of Shaanxi, a cute brown and white panda greets zoo visitors.

Another anomalous animal has joined their ranks. Black squirrels have been spotted in both the United States and the UK, and now scientists believe they know why.

Like many animals with unusual color schemes, black squirrels are the result of a genetic detour. Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge University, and the Virginia Museum of Natural History collaborated on a project that tested squirrel DNA. Their findings, which were published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, demonstrated that the black squirrel is the product of interspecies breeding between the common gray squirrel and the fox squirrel. The black squirrel is actually a gray squirrel with a faulty pigment gene carried over from the fox squirrel that turns their fur a darker shade. (Some fox squirrels, which are usually reddish-brown, are also black.)

A black squirrel is pictured
sanches12/iStock via Getty Images

Scientists theorize a black fox squirrel may have joined in on a mating chase involving gray squirrels and got busy with a female. The black fur may offer benefits in colder regions, with squirrels able to absorb and retain more heat, giving them a slight evolutionary edge.

In North America, black squirrels are uncommon, with one estimate putting them at a rate of one in every 10,000 squirrels. In 1961, students at Kent State University in Ohio released 10 black squirrels that had been captured by Canadian wildlife authorities. The squirrels now populate the campus and have become the school’s unofficial mascot. Their coloring might help them hide from predators, which might come in handy at Kent State: The campus is also home to hawks.

[h/t The Guardian]

You’ll Be Able to Buy Some of Fiona the Hippo’s Poop to Fertilize Your Garden

Mark Dumont, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
Mark Dumont, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Fiona the hippo has come along way since she was born two months premature at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2017. Today, Fiona is happy and healthy, weighing in at more than 1200 pounds. A hippo that size makes a lot of excrement, and now Fiona fans can purchase some of it to fertilize their gardens, WLWT5 reports.

Fiona produces about 22 pounds of poop a day; just 7 pounds shy of her birth weight. Normally the dung would be sent to a landfill, but as part of its new zero-waste initiative, the Cincinnati Zoo is composting all of its animal waste into fertilizer. Much of it will be added to the zoo's own farm and gardens, but some will also be available to purchase from the zoo's gift shops and online store. The fertilizer will be made from the dung left behind by the hundreds of animals living at the zoo, including Fiona.

The Cincinnati Zoo bills itself as the greenest zoo in the country. In addition to recycling all of its animal waste into compost, it also aims to fill its animal habitats with recycled rain water and grow more food for its animals on its own farm [PDF]. For the zero-waste part of the plan, the zoo plans to repurpose two million pounds of animal feces each year using a combination of on-site and off-site composting.

The zoo is in the process of acquiring the necessary equipment to launch its waste composting program. When the time comes, Fiona will be ready to make her sizable contributions to the project.

[h/t WLWT5]

The Disabled Chihuahua Puppy Who Befriended a Flightless Pigeon Now Has a Tiny Wheelchair

Lundy, the Chihuahua, and his pigeon friend, Herman.
Lundy, the Chihuahua, and his pigeon friend, Herman.
HandicappedPets.com, YouTube

The only thing more heartwarming than an interspecies friendship between a Chihuahua that can’t walk and a pigeon that can’t fly is if the Chihuahua in question happened to own a very tiny wheelchair.

Earlier this month, The Mia Foundation, a nonprofit shelter for special needs animals in Rochester, New York, took to Facebook to share photos of Lundy, a two-month-old Chihuahua without mobility in his back legs, snuggling up with a flightless pigeon named Herman.

"I took Herman out of his playpen to give him some time out and I put him in a dog bed and then I had to tend to Lundy so I put Lundy in with him,” Sue Rogers, who runs the foundation with her husband, Gary, told WHEC. “They just looked really cute together, so I took some pictures and posted them to Facebook and the next morning it was crazy.”

After the post went viral, The Mia Foundation received more than $6000 in monetary donations—and a surprise gift for Lundy. New Hampshire-based pet mobility company Walkin’ Pets provided him with a Mini Walkin’ Wheels wheelchair, a two-wheeled harness meant for disabled animals that weigh between two and 10 pounds. According to a press release from Walkin’ Pets, the shelter had been worried that two-pound Lundy, who could probably fit in the palm of your hand, wouldn’t get the chance to run around with the help of a wheelchair until he grew quite a bit bigger.

lundy the disabled chihuahua with his wheelchair
Lundy patiently waits to try out his new wheelchair.
Walkin' Pets

Newly mobile and even cuter than before, Lundy is now waiting for a kind family to adopt him. Finding a forever home might take him away from his fine feathered friend, but Lundy and Herman’s bond won’t ever be forgotten: There’s now a book called Lundy and Herman that tells their story. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Mia Foundation, and you can order it for $20 here.

[h/t WHEC]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER