|Sciurus carolinensis Gmelin|
Eastern Gray Squirrel
Don Linzey & Christy Brecht
Wytheville Community College
Wytheville, Virginia 24382
Last updated: 26 November, 2005
- Adult total length:
16 - 22 in. (400 - 550 mm)
6 1/2 - 10 in. (170 - 255 mm)
- Hind foot:
2 - 2 3/4 in. (50 - 69 mm)
1 - 2 1/4 lbs. (360 - 650 g)
The medium-sized, bushy-tailed gray squirrel has primarily
gray upperparts and silvery-gray underparts. The head,
midback, sides, and upper surfaces of the feet are washed
with yellowish-brown. A whitish ring is present around each
eye, and white is present on the backs of the ears. Both
albinistic (white) and melanistic (black) individuals have
been recorded in the park. An albino individual was collected
on the south shore of Fontana Reservoir, opposite Forney Creek
on October 31 (Stupka, 1958). A
melanistic specimen was seen by Fleetwood (
1935) near Parson Bald on March 26.
left lateral view of
skull and mandible
dorsal view of skull
ventral view of skull
The eastern gray squirrel inhabits the forests of eastern North America,
extending westward from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Plains and eastern
Texas and south from southern Canada to the Gulf Coast. Its distribution
is closely correlated with the distribution of the eastern hardwood trees,
especially oak, hickory, and formerly chestnut.
||Mice, rats, hamsters, etc.
||Woodchucks, chipmunks, and squirrels
Gray squirrels prefer dense hardwood and mixed coniferous-hardwood forests,
especially oak and beech woods.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
Gray squirrels have been observed at all elevations in the park,
but they are rare in the spruce-fir zone (Linzey,
1995b). They are most frequently seen in deciduous forests,
especially oak and beech woods, at the lower elevations.
- Blount Co.:
Cades Cove (1,750 - 2,550 feet); Parson Bald; Russell Field.
- Cocke Co.:
Cosby; Indian Camp Creek; Snake Den Mountain (3,600 feet);
Inadu Knob (5,000 feet).
- Sevier Co.:
Park headquarters; Greenbrier (1,700 feet, 2,000 feet);
Ramsay Prong; Newfound Gap Road (2,000 feet); Copeland
Creek; Fighting Creek; Cove Mountain; Injun Creek; Jakes
Creek (3,000 feet); Horseshoe Mountain (3,500 feet); Mt.
Guyot; Mt. LeConte.
- State (Tenn. - N.C.) line:
Spence Field (4,800 feet).
- Haywood Co.:
Big Creek; Cataloochee; Mt. Sterling.
- Swain Co.:
Deep Creek; Eagle Creek; Between Cooper Creek and Indian
Creek; Bradley Fork; Twentymile Creek; Smokemont; near
mouth of Mingus Creek; Forney Creek; Huggins Creek; Round
Bottom; Hughes Ridge; Hyatt Ridge; Jenkins Ridge; Locust
Ridge Trail; Pilot Knob; Richland Mountain; Shuckstack Ridge;
Flat Creek (4,700 feet); Noland Divide; Forney Ridge.
Female gray squirrels usually produce two litters annually. They
begin their mating activities about the time of the winter solstice
and continue through January and February. Following a 40-day
gestation period, young are born during February and March. Another
lesser mating period occurs during June and July with resulting births
occurring between late July and mid-September. Occasionally births
occur at other times of the year. In the park, nursing females have
been reported in March (Komarek and Komarek, 1938),
in May (Stupka, 1937), in August, and in October
(Stupka, 1944). Two males in breeding condition
and two half-grown individuals were taken in October by the Komareks.
Half-grown young have also been seen in mid-April (
Stupka, 1937). The mother-to-be selects a secure and dry tree den,
which she lines with leaves and bark fibers. Here she gives birth to
one to six blind and hairless young, usually two or three. She raises
the young by herself and drives off all other squirrels that approach
her nest. Within a few days hair begins to appear on the young and after
five weeks their eyes open. At eight or nine weeks they are weaned and
shortly thereafter are abandoned by their mother.
In captivity, gray squirrels have been known to live for 20 years
(Burnell, 1987). A few wild squirrels may survive
until they are 8 - 10 years old.
- Terrestrial Ecology
Gray squirrels spend most of their time in trees. They come to the ground
mainly to find food. Foraging for food takes place primarily in early
morning and late afternoon. Although gray squirrels are active during all
seasons, they may remain in their nests for several days at a time during
periods of severe weather. During the winter, several squirrels may occupy
a single den cavity. On January 24, 1935, four squirrels were found in a
single den in a dead chestnut tree, in the park (Linzey,
The acorns, nuts, buds, and fruits of oaks, hickories, black gum, and beech
provide the important year-round staple foods. These food items are
supplemented during certain seasons by the buds, flowers, and fruits of
trees such as dogwood, silverbell, buckeye, and American hornbeam; corn;
mushrooms; and insects. In the park, gray squirrels have been observed
feeding on acorns, walnuts, beechnuts, chestnuts, berries of American holly,
and the fruits of dogwood, silverbell, buckeye, and American hornbeam trees.
In February and March, they have been seen cutting the flowering twigs of
sugar maple, red maple twigs with bursting buds, oak twigs with flowers and
young leaves, and pine twigs.
The enterococci Streptococcus faecalis and Streptococcus faecium
were recorded from fecal specimens by Mundt (1963).
- Predators and Defense
An adult squirrel was removed from the stomach of a timber rattlesnake
(Crotalus horridus) taken June 24 at Cataloochee (
Stupka, 1951). A bobcat (Lynx rufus) found dead along the
Newfound Gap Road (N.C.; 2,600 feet) in December had consumed a gray
squirrel (Stupka, 1953). A number of squirrels
are killed every year by automobiles on park roads. This number greatly
increases during years of hard mast shortages or failures.
The Komareks reported heavy infestations of fleas on gray squirrels
taken during all seasons. Linzey (1973) recorded
the flea Orchopeas howardii from a gray squirrel found dead along the
Newfound Gap Road, 2,000 feet (Sevier Co., Tenn.) in December.
Links to Other Sites
- Special Protection Status
The gray squirrel is an important game species throughout its
range and is protected by state game regulations.
- In Park:
All plants and animals are protected within
Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Collection requires a permit which is usually
granted only for
research or educational purposes.
- Map development
- Web page design & coding
- Denise Lim, University of Georgia, Athens
- John Pickering, University of Georgia, Athens
Fleetwood, R. J. 1934 - 35.
Journal of Raymond J. Fleetwood, wildlife technician,
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, for the period May 27,
1934 - June 27, 1935. 499 pp. (Typewritten).
Flyger, V. 1999.
Eastern gray squirrel. Pages 451 - 453. In: D.E. Wilson, and S.
Ruff (eds.). The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals.
Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Gurnell, J. 1987.
The Natural History of Squirrels. New York: Facts on File
Komarek, E. V. and R. Komarek. 1938.
Mammals of the Great Smoky Mountains. Bulletin of the Chicago
Academy of Sciences 5 (6): 137 - 162.
Linzey, D. W. 1995a.
Mammals of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Blacksburg, Virginia: The McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company, Inc.
Linzey, D. W. 1995b.
Mammals of Great Smoky Mountains National Park-1995 Update.
Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 111(1):1-81.
Linzey, D. W. 1998.
The Mammals of Virginia. Blacksburg, Virginia: The McDonald
& Woodward Publishing Company, Inc.
Linzey, D.W. and A.V. Linzey. 1973.
Notes on parasites of small mammals from Great Smoky Mountains
National Park, Tennessee-North Carolina. Journal of the Elisha
Mitchell Scientific Society 89(1-2): 15.
Mundt, J. O. 1963.
Occurrence of enterococci in animals in a wild environment. Applied
Microbiology 11: 136 - 140.
Stupka, A. 1935 - 63.
Nature Journal, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 28 vols. (years)
each with index. (Typewritten copy in files of Great Smoky Mountains
National Park library).
Last modified: 10 April, 2002