Wednesday, September 17, 2008


A science project involved classifying local animals, so when my daughter asked me, "Hey, Mom, help me think of some animals from around here," the first ones I thought of was our black squirrels.

First of all, let me point out that black squirrels are really just Eastern Grey squirrels with melanin issues. Melanism is the opposite of albinism. The black squirrels simply have a change in the agouti gene which controls the banding of black and light areas on the hair shaft. They are not a different species of squirrel, any more than an albino human is a different species of human. Some of our black squirrels have auburn tails, quite stylish. :)

Local legend says that the black squirrel came to these parts when it was artifically introduced at Kent State University. Said to occur naturally in southern Ontario (which isn't far from Ohio) and southern Quebec, ten black squirrels were said to have been imported from Canada and set loose upon the university grounds in February 1961. A huge population now exists in Kent, Ohio and at Mount Union College about 20 miles southeast.

Most of the squirrels in my yard are of the black variety. I have plenty of them. Right now there are some pinecone bird feeders that the kids made out back and I'm sure the squirrels will carry them off before the day is out. Some people hate them - I don't. I find them fun to watch and some of them are downright friendly.

It's interesting how such a benign creature as a squirrel can suddenly change and become a fiersome thing. In the midst of daughter's project, we discovered an article about black squirrels in far-eastern Russia (near the Chinese border) who did a rather unexpectedly un-squirrel-like thing: they took down a large stray dog and killed it.

Apparently, there had been a pinecone shortage in the area during the fall/winter of 2005. A "big" stray dog was seen nosing around and barking at squirrels when suddenly a pack of them lept from the trees and attacked. "They literally gutted the dog," local journalist Anastasia Trubitsina told Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper. "When they saw the men, they scattered in different directions, taking pieces of their kill away with them."

In a previous incident that same autumn, chipmunks had been observed terrorizing local cats.

Here's a rather twisted squirrel site I found: Scary Squirrel World. Be warned, on the pages about what squirrels eat there is a picture of one eating bunny brains.

Okay, so who can imagine squirrels working as a pack, taking down a dog? I couldn't. I often wonder what it is that makes an animal or a person "snap." In the case of the Russian black squirrels, it was obviously starvation and the need for protein to survive.

What about people? On the news today was the horrible story of a young mother who drowned her two children in a bathtub. The 22 year old mother called the children's father at work and told him that the children were "at peace." Of course, no one ever thought this mommy had anything like that in her.

In other news, a once-respected local principal has pleaded guilty to molesting a 9 yo while serving as principal in the 1990s. He's already serving time for molesting two others, charges which he plead guilty to 3 years ago. A county commissioner who was in that school system while this man was principal says, "He wasn't a bad guy as far as personality goes, but obviously behind closed doors he had some serious issues. Those issues came out in court today and he's been punished accordingly." From all accounts, on the surface he appeared to be a great guy, very well liked, in short...benign. Like black squirrels are seemingly benign, that is until something pushes the wrong button.

Today is also the anniversary of the Amish schoolhouse massacre. No one who knew the gunman ever thought in their wildest dreams that he was capable of something like that.

Melancholy thoughts, I know. I think it was the sadness on the face of the daddy of the children who were drowned that set my mind on this tangent. Feeling a bit disturbed about the uncertainty of animals and even people.

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