Photo and article by Marissa Guill, graduate student, Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Virginia Tech
The fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) is the largest species of tree squirrel native to the United States. In Virginia, fox squirrel populations are still present in the Delmarva Peninsula and west of the Piedmont into the Appalachians. However east of the Appalachians, particularly in the lower Piedmont and Coastal Plain, fox squirrels are rare and patchily distributed, especially the southeastern subspecies Sciurus niger niger, or the southeastern fox squirrel. Regionally, formerly suitable habitat has been subjected to fragmentation and degradation of mixed pine-hardwood forests and bottomland hardwoods by conversion to agriculture and plantation forestry, as well as decades of fire suppression. At this moment, the southeastern fox squirrel holds an unknown distributional status in Virginia which could ultimately impact future management efforts.
Our goal is to better understand the distribution of fox squirrels in Virginia to reveal important habitat requirements and ecological specialization. We are currently seeking out volunteers and citizen scientists to help us collect sightings of fox squirrels across Virginia.