Scientists have recorded a forth type of squirrel living in the UK. First it was the red and grey, then the black and now the brunette.
After a nationwide research project that was launched by Anglia Ruskin University’s “Black Squirrel Project’ earlier this year, which asked the public to report sightings of squirrels, increased numbers of around 4000 of the black squirrel were reported. This led researchers to find that in fact, people had confused the brunette squirrel with the black.
Due to the mix up in findings, researchers are unsure as to how many brunette squirrels there currently are residing in the UK, although their numbers are already established on the continent. However, their mistake discovery makes them the rarest of all 4 squirrel species.
The brunettes, which are also known as ‘black-reds’ are dark brown or black in colour. They are a sub-species of Britain’s rare native red squirrel, which are now confined to small areas with an estimated population of only 120,000. The brunettes have the same body shape as the red squirrel and the same long tufty ears and white markings on their stomachs.
Similarly, the black squirrel is a subtype of the grey, which has spread across Britain since their introduction from North America in the 1870s with an estimated population of 2.5 million. Numbers of its black counterpart are at only 25,000 in the UK. Both dark subtypes have arisen through genetic mutation.
Sightings of the brunette squirrel were recorded in areas where reds can still be found, such as Cumbria, Isle of Wight, Merseyside and Scotland. As researchers are not aware of any reported releases of black-reds in those areas, they now believe black-reds are native to Britain.
Now, scientists are keen to find out more about the genetic mutilation, and what it is that distinguishes the red from the brunette.