Delmarva Fox Squirrel
(Sciurus niger cinereus)
The Delmarva fox squirrel has physical similarities to the common gray squirrel. It has a silver-gray coat, short rounded ears and whitish feet. Where the Delmarva fox squirrel sets itself apart is in its size. It can grow up to 30 inches long, weigh up to 3 pounds and its bushy tail can reach 15 inches in length. Delmarva fox squirrels are one of the 10 recognized subspecies of fox squirrels, which are the largest tree squirrels in the western hemisphere. The Delmarva fox squirrel was federally listed as an endangered species in 1967, but thanks to conservation efforts, it was removed in December 2015.
Delmarva fox squirrels have a restricted range. The original population size was most likely not large, but its range once included the entire Delmarva Peninsula and parts of southeastern Pennsylvania. Today, the Delmarva fox squirrels range is located in most counties on the Maryland Eastern Shore and in a few places in Delaware and Virginia.
The Delmarva fox squirrel spends a considerable amount of time on the ground, rather than in trees. Delmarva fox squirrels live in mature forest stands along streams and bays, and in small woodlots next to agricultural fields. In southern Dorchester County, where the largest concentrations of fox squirrels reside, their habitat also includes mature loblolly pine stands near marshes and tidal streams. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is one of the premier places to observe Delmarva fox squirrels on the peninsula.
Typically, Delmarva fox squirrels prefer forests presenting an open, park-like understory, a high percentage of mature mixed hardwoods and pines, relatively closed canopies, and a high proportion of forest edge. Oak, maple, hickory, beech and pine trees are important components of the Delmarva fox squirrel’s habitat. These trees provide food in the form of mast (acorns, nuts and seeds).
The typical diet of Delmarva fox squirrels includes nuts, seeds and acorns from oak, pine, maple and hickory trees. They will also eat fruit, fungi, insects and immature green pinecones.
The Delmarva fox squirrel mates in late winter and have an incubation period of 44 days. Females give birth to a litter of 1-4 young from February through April. The female Delmarva fox squirrel provides primary parental care until her pups are weaned (about 9-12 weeks). If conditions are right, a female may produce a second litter during the summer.
Delmarva Fox Squirrels and People:
Much of the habitat now occupied by the Delmarva fox squirrel remains on private property. The species’ continued success rests heavily on the willingness of landowners to provide for the squirrels, the commitment of loggers and developers to maintaining mature forest, and the ability of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to ensure appropriate habitat is maintained.
Loss of habitat is believed to be the major reason for the Delmarva fox squirrel’s demise. By the early 1900s, it was extirpated from all states except Maryland. In 1967, its range was narrowed to only four Eastern Shore counties - Kent, Queen Anne’s, Talbot and Dorchester - less than 10 percent of its former reach. Today, the Delmarva fox squirrel often exists in small pockets of suitable habitat.
Efforts to restore the population began in 1945 when the DNR purchased LeCompte Wildlife Management Area in Dorchester County as a refuge for the Delmarva fox squirrel. It was listed as an endangered species in 1967 and in 1971 hunting of the Delmarva was formally banned. Through an active reintroduction program in the 1970 through early 1990s, several additional populations of Delmarva fox squirrels were established in Caroline, Kent, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties in Maryland and at a few locations in Delaware and Virginia. Natural expansion of the population has also occurred on the Delmarva Peninsula. With recent indications showing that the Delmarva fox squirrel’s status is improving, the population has recovered and may no longer warrant endangered species protection.
Did you know?
The Delmarva fox squirrel can use its bushy tail as a blanket to wrap around itself during cold weather.
- Photo of Delmarva Fox Squirrel, courtesy of John White