What color is a squirrel
The alleged threat
In the press, radio and television it is often reported that there is already an immigrant squirrel in our country, the American gray squirrel. True horror scenarios are portrayed about the supposedly dangerous immigrants. Since hardly anyone knows exactly what to do, many people now assume that a croissant that is not a maroon red like the original picture book is automatically one of the "bad guys". One of the sentences that we hear in almost every conversation is: “We already have the black croissants. I always chase them away because they endanger our red ones. "
What the reports, which are often lurid, are pure scare tactics, with the result that our native squirrels, who are not exactly red, are chased away, driven away, even poisoned. Terrible! This eternal intervention in nature shows once again fatal consequences. “Well-meaning” people chase away or kill the locals for mistaking them for immigrants.
It is therefore very important to us to clarify the following - and please, please pass this information on to everyone: Our native squirrels can have different colors. The best known is probably the red-brown (maroon) colored. It always has a white belly that never changes color. In winter the coat color changes frequently, not always, to gray. But there are also squirrels that are dark brown, almost black or brown-orange, as can be seen from the photos attached here. Sometimes only parts of the fur are discolored gray, so that it almost looks like "patchwork". But whatever the shade of color it may be, it's still our native squirrel!
There are still no gray squirrels in Germany!
To answer one more question, the American gray squirrels cannot interbreed with our native squirrels. Also in this regard, the all-clear: There are no “mixed squirrels”. The background to the panic reports is as follows: The gray squirrels live in some parts of North America and Canada. They are significantly larger and clumsier in body than the European squirrels, but they are very robust and can survive in various environments and generally have a longer life expectancy (approx. 10-12 years). In England, American gray squirrels were released for a long period from 1876 onwards. The owners of these animals thought this was a good idea to enrich nature. Unfortunately, it had a devastating effect on the population of the European "red" squirrels there.
The alien squirrels were carriers of a virus (Parapoxvirus), against which they are immune, but which can be so dangerous for the European squirrels that they die of the disease. In fact, this disease minimized the native croissants in large numbers so that the immigrants could occupy their places relatively quickly. It is often said that the rapid increase in gray squirrels has changed the native fauna and flora. But: In times of cold winters, the English cut down many forests to keep their homes warm. Instead of the native - but slowly growing - trees, foreign tree varieties were often planted, which grow up much faster - and could be processed into firewood more quickly. In the new forests (too little coniferous forest) it was more difficult for the local squirrels to gain a foothold and survive well. For the gray squirrels, however, the deciduous forests were no problem at all, on the contrary.
The red squirrel population continued to decline. The typical picture in London parks are the American gray squirrels, who like to fetch offered food and romp around everywhere. Due to the efforts of some animal rights activists, the local croissants were able to hold onto certain places. In England researchers are busy developing a vaccine against the Parapox virus to protect the red squirrels.
In order to get the number of gray squirrels under control, the politicians there have suggested killing and eating them. Traps are set up to take the animals to other areas, castration and contraception programs have been designed. But nature also has a lot up its sleeve. Some European squirrels appear to have developed immunity to the Parapox virus. Not all American gray squirrels are carriers of the virus!
Isn't it all that bad?
Now another method seems to be emerging slowly to end the spread: There are again more pine martens in England, to which the heavier and less nimble gray squirrels fall victim more quickly than the European ones. In other countries too, like Italy, American gray squirrels were released into the wild about 60 years ago. Over the years, the spreading gray squirrels could also arrive in Germany via Switzerland and spread here.
A few gray specimens have probably already arrived at the Italian-Swiss border - and lo and behold: They don't seem to endanger the local squirrel population there. This is probably also due to the fact that the gray squirrels have a harder time in the forests there, the coniferous forest is ideal for the local squirrels. The gray squirrels have it easier in deciduous and mixed forests. And in contrast to the sensational reports, the American squirrels do not attack their "red" conspecifics, they all live in coexistence. Certainly the long-term problem of a possible displacement of the red croissant cannot be dismissed out of hand. And you should use the time to contact the English scientists to stay up to date with their findings and results (vaccine against virus, contraception programs, coniferous forest reforestation) so that you can be prepared and act with us accordingly.
Nevertheless: We join the British biologist Ken Thompson and plead for more serenity. There are still no immigrant gray squirrels in Germany. Incidentally, it has always been the case that plants and animals (and humans) spread across borders, be it naturally, through human hands, the destruction of habitats or through climate change, which will bring us some more serious changes.
And let's be honest: Take a closer look at our photos of the American gray squirrels. Aren't they beautiful and cute too? To make things clearer, we have tried to work out some differences: Gray squirrels never have fluffy ears, they are always the same color: gray-ocher-colored with a white belly. They have light circles around their eyes, they are up to twice the size of the native squirrels, they are more plump physically, and they don't move as nimble and nimble as ours. In a word: you can tell at first glance that they are gray squirrels.
In Germany, the private ownership and trading of American gray squirrels is prohibited by law.
A tip: check out the movie "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (by Tim Burton). There is a longer scene there where you can take a close look at the American gray squirrels and maybe come to love them too.
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