Fox Squirrel

Sciurus niger

Last updated: May 5, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Vaclav Matous/Shutterstock.com

Although it is a tree squirrel, it spends most of its time on the ground.


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Fox Squirrel Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Rodentia
Family
Sciuridae
Genus
Sciurus
Scientific Name
Sciurus niger

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Fox Squirrel Conservation Status

Fox Squirrel Locations

Fox Squirrel Locations

Fox Squirrel Facts

Prey
Insects, bird eggs
Name Of Young
Juveniles
Group Behavior
  • Social
Fun Fact
Although it is a tree squirrel, it spends most of its time on the ground.
Biggest Threat
Overhunting, forest destruction
Most Distinctive Feature
Large size and large, bushy tail
Other Name(s)
Bryant's fox, eastern fox, stump-eared, racoon, and monkey-faced squirrel
Gestation Period
44-45 days
Litter Size
2-4
Habitat
Leaf nests and tree dens
Predators
Birds of prey, carnivorous mammals
Diet
Omnivore
Type
rodent
Common Name
fox squirrel
Number Of Species
10
Location
Eastern and central United States
Group
social

Fox Squirrel Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Grey-Brown
Skin Type
Fur
Top Speed
17 mph
Lifespan
6-12.6 years
Length
21 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
10-11 months
Age of Weaning
2 months

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The fox squirrel is a large tree squirrel with a rust-colored coat and a distinctive bushy tail.
The fox squirrel is a large tree squirrel with a rust-colored coat and a distinctive bushy tail.

“Fox squirrels use scents to communicate with other squirrels, although it is not territorial.”

The fox squirrel, also called Bryant’s fox, eastern fox, stump-eared, raccoon, and monkey-faced squirrel is a common tree squirrel species. It is native to North America.

The largest North American squirrel species that exists, is twice as large as the grey squirrel, which is more common.

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People may confuse it with the eastern grey squirrel or the American red squirrel.

3 Incredible Fox Squirrel Facts!

close up of a fox squirrel

The bat is able to safely land on the tree trunk from a height of 20 feet after falling.

©Nico Giuliani/Shutterstock.com



  • Flexible ankle joints allow it to turn its feet at 180 degrees.
  • It can fall from a tree at a height of 20 feet and land safely on the tree trunk.
  • It can jump several feet at a time.

Scientific Name

Southern Fox Squirrel

The fox squirrel’s scientific name is Sciurus niger, which translates to “black squirrel,” and it belongs to the Rodentia order, as all squirrels are classified as rodents.

©Keith V/Shutterstock.com

The scientific name of the fox squirrel is Sciurus niger, which means “black squirrel.” Squirrels are rodents and so they are in the order Rodentia.

Their family is Sciuridae, which includes small and medium-sized rodents. Ground squirrels, tree squirrels, flying squirrels, chipmunks, and prairie dogs are all members of Sciuridae. The fox squirrel genus, Sciurus, includes many of the common, bushy-tailed squirrel species around the world.

Identification of fox squirrels includes 10 subspecies, which differ by size and geographic location:

  • Southern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger niger)
  • Eastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger vulpinus)
  • Texas fox squirrel (Sciurus niger limitis)
  • Western fox squirrel (Sciurus niger rufiventer)
  • Delta fox squirrel (Sciurus niger subauratus)
  • Big Cypress fox squirrel (Sciurus niger avicinnia)
  • Upland fox squirrel (Sciurus niger bachmani)
  • Delmarva fox squirrel (Sciurus niger cinereus)
  • Pineywoods fox squirrel (Sciurus niger ludovicianus)
  • Sherman’s fox squirrel (Sciurus niger shermani)

Evolution and Origins

The eastern fox squirrel, also called the fox squirrel, has a subspecies known as the Delmarva fox squirrel (Sciurus niger cinereus), which was previously found in the Delmarva Peninsula, southeastern Pennsylvania, and southern New Jersey, but currently inhabits only the eastern shore of Maryland and Virginia.

Fox squirrels have a natural range that extends through most of the eastern United States, north into the southern prairie provinces of Canada, and west to the Dakotas, Colorado, and Texas, but they are absent in certain areas, such as New England, New Jersey, most of New York, northern and eastern Pennsylvania, Ontario, Quebec, and the Atlantic provinces of Canada.

Although they have been introduced to various locations, including several Canadian provinces and several western U.S. states, they are most commonly found in forest patches with an open understory, urban neighborhoods with trees, and riverine corridors of cottonwood in the Great Plains regions.

Appearance

The body length of the fox squirrel ranges from 10 to 15 inches, while its overall length, including the tail, can reach up to 30 inches.

©JustPixs/Shutterstock.com

The fox squirrel measures 20 to 30 inches in length, with a body length of 10 to 15 inches and the tail about the same. On average, it is 21 inches long. It weighs one to 2.5 pounds with an average weight range of 1.6 to 2.3 pounds.

Western species are smaller than those in other areas. All have several sensitive whiskers on each forearm, on their nose and chin, and above and below the eyes, which they use for sensory input from their environment.

Identification of the sexes by outward appearance alone is impossible because they look the same and are the same size. As for colors, three possible types are depending on geography. Identification of fox squirrels in most areas by colors means brown-grey to brown-yellow with a brown-orange belly, while all have large, bushy tails.

Identification of fox squirrels in eastern areas by colors shows dark brown and black squirrels with white bands on the tail and face. For example, the eastern fox squirrel has grey-black fur on its back and orange fur on its belly. Those in the South live in isolated communities and are black.

Behavior

The fox squirrel is a social mammal. Although it is a tree squirrel, it spends most of its time on the ground where it forages during the day. It is not territorial either, but it does use scent markings to communicate with other squirrels, and it does defend its nest.

The female is the main sex that defends the nest with aggressive behavior, while the male can be aggressive during the season. Both are aggressive towards juvenile squirrels during young dispersal.

In any residential area, the fox squirrel is likely to use electrical lines to travel which can cause power outages. Sometimes, it gnaws on telephone cables or gnaws holes into wooden buildings and invades attics. It can become a pest since it digs holes in gardens and turf to store acorns.

It also eats nuts, fruits, and many other plants, and strips the outer bark of trees to eat the juicy inner bark. All of this behavior causes damage to lawns, gardens, and trees.

Habitat

baby fox squirrel

The fox squirrel is native to North America and can be found in most parts of the eastern and central regions of the United States.

©iStock.com/Astrid Hinderks

North America is the native home of the fox squirrel. Its habitat range includes most of the eastern and central United States. Although it can live in various types of forests and residential areas, its typical habitat is open woodlands with mature trees but no dense canopy or undergrowth, usually large trees mixed in with agricultural land.

As for the home it creates, it makes two different kinds: leaf nests, or dreys, and tree dens. It uses tree dens over the winter and while raising young, but if they are not available, it uses leaf nests throughout the year. The summer is when it builds leaf nests and it does so about 30 feet above the ground, using the forks of deciduous trees.

The diameter of den trees can vary; on average, those in Ohio average diameter at breast height (fbh) of 21 inches and about 53.6 m (58.6 yards) away from the closest woodland border. Most tree dens in eastern Texas average a dbh of 12 inches or more. However, they are usually six inches wide and 14-16 inches deep. For this reason, overstory trees must have an average dbh of at least 15 inches.

Tree canopy closure should be 20 to 60%, with understory closure of 30% or less shrub-crown closure. The fox squirrel usually uses natural cavities or cavities created by red-headed woodpeckers, northern flickers, or crow nests. The trees it uses are oaks, hickories, and occasionally pines.

Not only is the fox squirrel tolerant of humans, but it can also thrive in suburban and even urban areas alike. It uses residential areas for food sources and nesting sites.

Diet

Facts about the fox squirrel show that its diet is omnivorous. However, its main diet depends on geographic location. It generally eats insects, tree buds, mast, tubers, roots, bulbs, fungi, pine and spring-fruiting tree seeds, and bird eggs. It also eats fruit, wheat, oats, soybeans, and corn. The mast it eats is usually live oak, poak oak, bluejack oak, southern red oak, and turkey oak. On average, it eats about a pound of food a week.

Predators and Threats

Predators of adult fox squirrels are large hawks, owls, bobcats, lynxes, foxes, and coyotes, while snakes prey on young squirrels. However, because few natural predators can catch them regularly, they are opportunistic hunters.

Fox squirrels carry diseases such as ringworm, which they can transmit to humans. Mange mites, extreme winter weather, forest destruction, and overhunting are all threats to fox squirrel populations.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

fox squirrel scratching its belly

The mating behavior of this squirrel begins when the females enter into estrus, also known as “heat,” during mid-December or early January and in June.

©Vaclav Matous/Shutterstock.com

This squirrel’s mating behavior starts with females, who go into estrus or “heat” in mid-December or early January as well as in June.

As part of their typical squirrel mating behavior, they make “kuk” and “qua” moaning sounds before and after mating, and males chase them as a form of flirting. Females become sexually mature at 10 to 11 months and have their first litter at a year old.

Yearling females have one litter, while older females have two per year. A litter can be born as early as January, but most are born in mid-March and July. Most females give birth in September or October, but with their second breeding season in winter can give birth again from February through May. They nurse their young in the nests for 2 months.

There is an average of three juveniles in a litter with an average range of 2 to 4, although there can be anywhere from two to seven babies. The gestation period is 44 to 45 days. It is dependent on the squirrel species, with the gestation period ranging from less than a month to a month and a half.

Plus, the time females go into estrus is individualized, so they don’t go into heat at the same time. Grey squirrels are very similar in their mating behavior and other habits and so interbreed where their geography overlaps.

The lifespan of this squirrel species in the wild is poor, with many squirrels dying before they become adults due to the aforementioned threats. Females can live up to 12.6 years while males can live up to 8.6 years as their maximum lifespan. On average, they live for 6 years but in captivity can live up to 18 years.

Population

Facts about these squirrels show that they have the largest population of squirrels in North America, although the grey squirrel is more common with regard to habitat range and is more often seen. Certain subspecies, such as the Delmarva fox squirrel, are endangered due to overhunting and forest destruction, while mange mites and extreme winter weather cause squirrel populations in general to decline.

However, the conservation status of the species is listed as stable and Least Concern.

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Rebecca is an experienced Professional Freelancer with nearly a decade of expertise in writing SEO Content, Digital Illustrations, and Graphic Design. When not engrossed in her creative endeavors, Rebecca dedicates her time to cycling and filming her nature adventures. When not focused on her passion for creating and crafting optimized materials, she harbors a deep fascination and love for cats, jumping spiders, and pet rats.

Fox Squirrel FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How rare are fox squirrels?

They are pretty common besides grey squirrels.

Where are fox squirrels found?

In the eastern and central United States.

Are fox squirrels aggressive?

They can be during mating season or while defending their nests.

What is a fox squirrel?

A fox squirrel is a species of squirrel native to North America.

What does a fox squirrel look like?

It is usually brown-grey or brown-yellow with a brown-orange belly and a large, bushy tail.

What does a fox squirrel eat?

Fungi, roots, tubers, seeds, nuts, fruits, crops, bird eggs, and insects.

How big is a fox squirrel?

It is about 21 inches long, including the tail, and weighs 1.6 to 2.3 pounds.

How long does a fox squirrel live?

Its average lifespan is six years in the wild and 15 years in captivity.

What are the differences between a Fox squirrel and a Grey squirrel?

The major differences between the Fox squirrel and the Grey squirrel are size, appearance, and behavior.

One of these species is larger, along with a few other squirrels as well. The Fox squirrel and the Grey squirrel share many behavioral characteristics common to other tree squirrels. Both species collect and store food in multiple locations and nest in tree hollows. Both have a common diet that consists of nuts, seeds, and berries.

The differences are explained here.

What are the differences between a Fox squirrel and a Red squirrel?

Fox squirrels and red squirrels differ in size, distribution, and habitat preferences.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fox_squirrel
  2. AnimalSake, Available here: https://animalsake.com/fox-squirrel-facts
  3. OSU extension, Available here: https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/gray-and-fox-squirrels.html
  4. North Carolina Wildlife Profiles, Available here: https://www.ncwildlife.org/Portals/0/Learning/documents/Profiles/Mammals/Fox_Squirrel.pdf
  5. Texas Parks and Wildlife, Available here: https://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/species/easternfoxsquirrel/
  6. LAC, Available here: https://lifeadvicecoach.org/what-are-fox-squirrel-predators/
  7. Nature Mentoring, Available here: https://nature-mentor.com/squirrel-mating-behavior/
  8. what do squirrels eat, Available here: https://www.whatdosquirrelseat.org/when-do-squirrels-have-babies/
  9. ALL GOOD pet solutions, Available here: https://www.allgoodservices.com/pest-info/nuisance-wildlife/fox-squirrel/
  10. ADW, Available here: https://animaldiversity.org/site/accounts/information/Sciurus_niger.html
  11. Squirrel Enthustiast, Available here: https://squirrelenthusiast.com/how-long-do-squirrels-live/
  12. classicanimal, Available here: https://www.classicanimal.com/2021/04/fox-squirrel-information-facts.html

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