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Gray squirrel: characteristics and invasiveness

Gray squirrel: characteristics and invasiveness


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Gray squirrel, in scientific jargon called "Sciurus carolinensis Gmelin ", is a rodent belonging to the sciuridae family, he is often portrayed in cartoons and illustrations as a cute and lively animal, he actually is, but there is a lot to discover about him, distinguishing him from his red consideration with which he does not get along very well.

The gray squirrel in fact it is spreading in our country as it competes with our (native) red squirrel as regards food resources, risking their extinction.

Another danger posed by the gray squirrel to the red squirrel is Parapoxvirus which can cause mortality up to 100% in red squirrels, while the gray squirrel is a healthy carrier of the virus.

The gray squirrel can also have negative consequences for our woods as it attaches itself to the bark to feed on underlying tissue or sap, unlike the red squirrel.

Gray squirrel: origins

The gray squirrel is native to the forests of eastern North America from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada (Quebec-Ontario). In Europe it was introduced in Great Britain, Ireland and Italy. In our country there are therefore the only populations of this species in continental Europe. The first introductions of the gray squirrel in Italy took place with intentional releases in 1948 in Piedmont, in 1966 in Genoa and more recently in Lombardy without taking into account the potential damage to the ecosystem.

While the Ligurian population has almost been eradicated in recent years, a dangerous population was created in Perugia a few years ago, from animals escaped from captivity, which could thus spread to Central Italy. Other expanding nuclei have been reported in Veneto.

Gray squirrel: characteristics

Half a meter long in total, including, it Gray Squirrel, it is almost half composed of the tail itself, like cm, while in weight, not really. The body certainly has a heavier weight, the total is nearly 500 grams on average. It would be trivial to say that the coat has a gray color, we can specify that it is a rather light tint and that it can often show the most acute observers, or photographers, reddish shades on different parts of the body.

For this reason, it can sometimes be confused by inexperienced observers with it Red squirrel but in any case it is Gray squirrel is… gray and at most it has red highlights, like we do when we use henna. The belly area and also the throat of this acrobat animal are white or otherwise lighter than the rest of the body.

What gray squirrel eats

This rodent is mainly active during the day and, in the sunlight, preferably in the shadows of the branches of a verdant forest, goes in search of food. It feeds on seeds and dried fruit, it does not always eat them immediately, it usually finds them and hides them in the hollows of tree trunks or in holes in the ground which it then covers. As mentioned above, however, it also feeds on the sap that flows under the bark of trees, risking damage to plants.

The Gray squirrel does not hibernate in the winter months.

Regarding the pace of reproduction of this animal, we take into account that the female goes into heat twice a year and in these periods the competition between males becomes very fierce. The pregnancy lasts a month and a half and each time four puppies are born, on average, which, once weaned, reach the adult size within 9 months of life.

Gray squirrel: price

The Gray Squirrel is priceless and on the contrary is a breed considered invasive exotic species due to the damage it can cause.

Gray squirrel: European standards against pests

On February 14, 2018, the Legislative Decree, published in the Official Gazette, came into force. on 30 January 2018. The provision establishes the rules aimed at preventing, minimizing and mitigating the negative effects on biodiversity caused by the introduction and diffusion, both deliberate and accidental, of invasive alien species within the European Union, as well as to minimize and mitigate the impact these species may have on human health or the economy.

The interventions envisaged in the decree have as guidelines:

  • prevention
  • early detection and rapid eradication
  • management in the present case already widely spread.

In Europe the gray squirrels they are controlled with methods that involve the removal of animals from the natural environment generally with capture with cages or direct killing with a firearm. In Great Britain, where the damage caused by invasive alien species in 2015 was estimated at around 2 billion euros, distributors of poisoned baits were also used where the common squirrel is not present. In Liguria, the eradication of a small urban population has begun with surgical sterilization and subsequent release of the animals. A similar activity was started in Umbria where some of the animals were sterilized.

Art. 6 of Legislative Decree 230/2017 expressly prohibits the deliberate or negligent introduction into the European Union, the reproduction, cultivation, transport, purchase, sale, use, exchange, possession and release of invasive alien species of Union concern, such as the gray squirrel.

The Legislative Decree 230/2017 establishes in articles 18-23 the measures of early detection and rapid eradication or for the already widespread species the management measures aimed at containing their impacts, expressly providing that these measures must be proportionate to the impact on the environment and spare the avoidable pain, distress and suffering of animals during the eradication process.

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Video: Extinction threat to Red Squirrel Competition GCSE Science Revision (July 2022).


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