||The Mammals of Texas -
Eastern Gray Squirrel
Rodentia : Family Sciuridae : Sciurus
Description. A medium-sized squirrel with
upperparts dark yellowish rusty, especially on head and
back; legs, arms, sides of neck, and sides of rump with
gray-tipped or white-tipped hairs, giving a gray tone to
these parts; hairs of tail dull yellow at base, then
blackish, and tipped with white; underparts white; ears
with conspicuous white spot at base in winter. External
measurements average: total length, 460 mm; tail, 210 mm;
hind foot, 61 mm. Weight of adults, 321-590 g.
Distribution in Texas. Native
distribution includes eastern one-third of state.
Introduced at locations to the west of its native range.
Habits. In Texas, gray squirrels
live mainly in dense hammocks of live oak and water oak
and in the deep swamps of cypress, black gum, and
magnolia that border the streams. Phil Goodrum found that
they were most abundant in hammocks where the principal
vegetation was white oak and water oak mixed with
magnolia, linden, sweet gum, and holly. Poorly drained
bottom lands with their pin, evergreen and overcup oaks,
elms, bitter pecan, black gum, cypress, and ash support
much smaller populations. In well-drained bottom lands
with post and red oaks, hackberries, gum elastic, and
pecan, the populations are still smaller, and upland
forests usually are devoid of gray squirrels.
They den in hollow trees when
available, but they also utilize outside leaf nests,
especially in spring and summer. These serve usually as
refuge, resting and feeding stations and occasionally as
nurseries. Placed in trees, they are constructed of
twigs, leaves, and so forth on the outside and lined with
shredded bark, plant fibers, and grasses. Usually there
are two openings.
Gray squirrels feed on a variety of
foods, chiefly plant in origin. Goodrum lists buds and
mast of oak and pecan trees, grapes, fungi, red haw buds,
sedges, grasses, mulberry, larval and adult insects, and
amphibians. Their mainstay, however, is mast (acorns,
etc.). They begin eating acorns in the Spring and
continue throughout the year if they are available. When
mast crops fail in one area, the squirrels usually move
en masse to other areas where food is more abundant. This
accounts in large measure for the "migrations"
of squirrels that are frequently reported. Normally they
feed twice a day early morning and late afternoon
and are less active at midday.
These squirrels breed throughout the
year, but there are two rather distinct peaks
July, August, and September and again in December,
January, and February. Mating is more or less
promiscuous; several males usually attempt to mate with
each receptive female. After a gestation period of 40-45
days, the two to four naked, blind, and helpless young
are born. They remain in the nest for about 6 weeks by
which time their eyes are open and their teeth have
developed so they can eat solid foods. By that time they
weigh about 200 g. They remain in family groups for a
month or so after they begin foraging for themselves.
When 6 months old they are nearly adult in size and have
left the home territory. They mature sexually in their
first year and produce young of their own when about 12
These squirrels are highly prized as
game. In most parts of their range they are decreasing in
numbers because of overhunting and the removal of favored
habitat by drainage or lumbering operations.
Consequently, sound management of their habitat is
becoming an increasingly important responsibility. Their
future will depend upon the acreage remaining in hardwood
forests, the length of timber rotations, the species
composition of hardwood stands, and the abundance of mast
supplies and dens. They do some damage in pecan orchards,
but such depredations are local in nature and can usually
be minimized by placing tin shields around the trunks
which prevent the squirrels from climbing trees.
Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife.