Fox Squirrel

Scientific Name
Sciurus niger
Also Known As
American Fox Squirrel, Cat-Squirrel,
Range
All of Florida
Diet
Nuts, Flowers, Fruit, Fungi
Life Expectancy
5 - 7 Years
The Florida Fox Squirrel
Fox Squirrel conservation status - Least Concern

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Fox Squirrels in Central Florida

The eastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) is a common tree squirrel found throughout central Florida. Often confused with the gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), fox squirrels can be identified by their reddish fur, large size, and bushy tail. This adaptive rodent thrives in diverse habitats from rural areas to urban parks and neighborhoods.

This comprehensive guide provides detailed identification tips, biology facts, and prevention methods for fox squirrels in central Florida. Read on to learn fox squirrel habits, reproduction, diet, health risks, signs of activity, and control options if populations become problematic.

Fox Squirrel Subspecies

Sherman's Fox Squirrel

Sherman’s Fox Squirrel

The Sherman’s fox squirrel is a subspecies of the eastern fox squirrel found only in central and northern Florida. Its range is focused on oak hammocks and pine forests unique to the Florida peninsula.

Compared to other eastern fox squirrels, the Sherman’s is larger in size and has mostly gray fur. It is the biggest tree squirrel species in the state.

Research on its genetics and physical traits shows it is different enough from other populations to be its own distinct subspecies.

The Sherman’s is adapted to the pine-oak forests of Florida where it lives. Its small range in the state and genetic uniqueness make it an important subspecies to study and protect.

Appearance and Identification

Fox squirrels can be distinguished from other tree squirrels by their size and coloration

Adult Fox Squirrel

Adult Fox Squirrel

  • Size: Fox squirrels reach 17 to 27 inches (43 to 69 cm) long including the tail. They weigh between 1.25 to 2.25 lbs (0.6 to 1 kg).
  • Fur: The fur is brownish-orange to grayish-brown overall with whitish undersides. Ear tufts are noticeable.
  • Tail: Very long, bushy tail with orange coloration. Tail comprises over 1/3 of their total length.
  • Features: Pointed muzzle, large eyes, and sharp claws suited for climbing and digging.
Juvenile Fox Squirrel

Juvenile Fox Squirrel

  • Size: At birth, fox squirrel kits weigh around 25 grams and are hairless and closed-eyed. They grow rapidly, reaching around 350 grams at 2 months old.
  • Fur: Juvenile fur grows in around 6 weeks of age. The hair is short and grayish brown initially.
  • Features: Proportional to their smaller body size, young fox squirrels have larger ears and feet as they grow. The tail is bushy.

Maturation Rate

Fox squirrel kits develop rapidly due to the long breeding season and mild climate in central Florida. They open their eyes by 4 weeks old and are fully furred by week 6. Kits begin venturing from the nest at 8 to 10 weeks old and are weaned by month 2 or 3. They are nearly adult sized by 5 to 6 months old and able to breed in their first year.

Habits and Behavior

Fox squirrels are diurnal and most active 2-3 hours after sunrise until mid-morning. They may emerge again late afternoon but spend hot mid-day periods resting. Fox squirrels do not hibernate but may den together during severe winter weather.

Fox squirrels inhabit mixed stands of oak, pine, palm trees, and cypress throughout central Florida. They prefer areas with dense understory vegetation and available tree cavities for nesting. Fox squirrels are agile climbers but spend considerable time foraging on the ground as well.

Home ranges average 5 to 100 acres but can exceed 300 acres in some rural regions. Fox squirrels are not highly territorial but have a core nesting area. Density ranges from 2 to 6 squirrels per acre depending on the habitat quality.

Reproduction and Lifespan

Fox squirrels can breed twice per year, once in early spring and again in summer. The gestation period is about 44 to 45 days. Females produce 1-7 young per litter, with 2-4 being average. The kits are born hairless and helpless, opening their eyes at around 4 weeks old.

Weaning occurs at 2 to 3 months of age but kits may stay with the mother until their first winter. Females may nest communally, sharing care of the young. Fox squirrels reach sexual maturity by 1 year old. With predation, their average lifespan is 5 to 7 year