My friend Mary had a thrilling experience earlier this month when she spotted this Delmarva fox squirrel on her property on the eastern shore of Maryland.
You don’t know what a Delmarva fox squirrel is? Well, I didn’t either. In fact, not only had I never heard of Delmarva Fox squirrels, I had never heard of Delmarva until Mary called with her big news. The word incorporates the shorthand for Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, and refers to a large peninsula that runs along the eastern shore of the three states.
The Delmarva Fox squirrel (Sciurus niger cinereus) is an endangered subspecies of fox squirrels (Sciurus niger). Its range once included southern portions of the border states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but it is now confined to Delmarva. So perhaps it’s not surprising that even though Mary grew up on the eastern shore of Maryland, she had never seen one. She described it as unmistakeable: huge (well, for a squirrel) and slower moving than Eastern gray squirrels, a pale silver in color with a lovely white belly, small ears and an enormous fluffy tail. In fact, at three pounds and 30 inches long, Delmarva fox squirrels are easily twice the size of an average Eastern gray squirrel and a third larger than the Eastern fox squirrels I used to watch in Texas.
Three pounds may not sound like much, but it makes for one hefty rodent.
The Delmarva Fox Squirrel is the biggest tree squirrel in North America. Here’s the squirrel climbing up a large tree, its long tail pouring down behind.
The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland’s Eastern shore has the largest native population of Delmarva fox squirrels. Here’s a video from Blackwater NWR of a gorgeous gray Delmarva Fox squirrel foraging for food. While it’s hard to get a sense of the size without another animal for comparison, you can clearly see the shape of the head, the stumpy ears and the long tail. The squirrel also seems less twitchy than its smaller cousins, flowing quite gracefully over the ground.
Loss of habitat due to logging and development is the primary cause of population decline for the Delmarva squirrel, as it is for so many animals.
Mary’s squirrel returned to the yard every day, sometimes twice a day, for a couple of weeks before disappearing. Mary and her husband also saw the squirrel feeding with a smaller Delmarva fox squirrel, leading them to suspect that she had been raising young nearby and that her companion was one of her babies.
On a rainy day, the squirrel seemed to be using its tail as an umbrella, something I’ve read about but never seen.
The squirrel hasn’t been spotted for some time now, and has probably moved on to a new foraging site. Hope she returns soon.