Squirrel hunting season is coming up, and the biggest species in our area to make dumplings out of is the fox squirrel, which had a population surge locally over the last decade or so.
Fox squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), are larger than the gray, weighing in at around 2-3 pounds with a body length of around 2 feet including the tail. They are usually reddish brown in color, but exhibit color variations that range from a buff color to gray, and in some instances black. The under parts are usually lighter, and typically have white noses with black faces and feet.
They are noted for their long, bushy tails and strong hind legs that allow them to leap easily from place to place. The skull of the fox squirrel has 20 teeth while the gray has 22. The fox squirrel got its name from its reddish color and the peculiar way of running along the ground that gives the appearance of a small fox.
Family life always begins with mating, which occurs in late winter and midsummer. Females breed when they are about one year old and produce one litter per year, averaging two or three per litter. Young are weaned at two to three months.
The diet of the fox squirrel consists primarily of plant material such as nuts, seeds, fungi, fruit and buds. Pine seed is their favorite. They have also been known to occasionally eat animal material such as insects and bird eggs.
Fox squirrels are a popular game animal due to their size. They spend more time on the ground than in trees and often attempt to escape enemies by running rather than climbing.
Steve Roark is the area forester in Tazewell, Tennessee for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Forestry Division.