Seen this? http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/9591778/The-brunette-squirrel-... I didn't know this variety/sub-species existed. Gorgeous.
Beautiful looking squirrels! As a child I spent some years living in Germany. We had some big trees in our garden and I saw these 'brunette' squirrels chasing up and down them together with the reds. I didn't know that they were in the UK though, so will now have to keep my eyes open for them.
What a brilliant piece of science reporting! Very attractive creatures by the way but then so are black-greys, however, it does not stop them from being the 'enemy' of the Tufty state! You don't hear people screaming for the black-greys to be culled though they are just as dangerous to reds and our native birds as standard greys are - funny that!
Anyway, the science - black squirrels of both types are just melanistic animals, they produce too much melanin and as such are the opposite of albino animals. They crop up within populations all the time, just in very low numbers and, I assume, are usually less camouflaged than the standard colouration so are picked off by predators before they have the chance to breed. Albinoism and melanism happens in a very large range of animal species, so why are we so surprised to find it in red squirrels? If there are populations of blacks then it must be because they have some survival advantage in the local area. This is a little known principal known as 'Natural Selection' proposed by a man called Charles Darwin some 150 years ago and refined by numerous other ecologists since.
'Scientists now want to find out more about the genetic mutation which distinguishes the reds and the brunettes. Extensive research into grey and black squirrels has already established that blacks have a piece of DNA missing on a gene that produces pigment, meaning they can only produce black fur.'
Scientists have known how albanism and melanism work almost since we discovered how genes work, what these scientists have done is work out which gene(s) is/are turned off; not to belittle their work, I know such detective work is difficult and laborious. However, it's not the major scientific breakthrough implied in this piece of journalism.
I think it's great that the newspapers have picked up on this as any publicity for the state of red squirrel populations in Britain is good, however, what annoys me is when they get the science wrong, or at least twisted, in the name of sensationalism and 'dumbing down'; they seam to think people will not read 'factual' newspaper articles!
Twenty years ago I was the press officer for a wildlife charity for two years and they were just as bad then, I used to have to come up with witty titles and/or some degree of intrigue in my press releases before the sub-editors would even look at them.
Sorry, grumpy old man rant over.
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