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SustainAbility Newsletter

Critter of the Season - Big Cypress Fox Squirrel

Fox Squirrel

The Big Cypress Fox Squirrel is a species in decline through much of its former range.  While this critter is dwindling in numbers, it is commonly seen on golf courses, particularly in Southwest, Florida.  Some of the healthiest populations of the squirrel are to be found on the fairways and habitats of the links in Lee and Collier Counties, Florida.

The scientific name of the Big Cypress Fox Squirrel is Sciurus niger avicennia. The genus name Sciurus is from the Greek words skia (shadow) and oura (tail), a reference to the bushy tail which casts a shadow on the squirrel. The Latin species name niger (black) refers to the black color phase which is common in this species.
  
Common name
Fox squirrels may have earned their name from their gray and red fur coat that resemble that of a gray fox, from their comparatively large size and thick bushy tail, and/or from peculiar way of running along the ground which gives the appearance of a small fox.
  
Lifespan
Fox squirrels live from four to seven years of age on average in natural conditions. One individual lived to 18 years of age in captivity.
   
Home range
Ranges vary from 8-32 acres depending on habitat conditions. Fox squirrels have large overlapping home ranges and are non-territorial.
  
Geographic Range
Fox squirrels are found throughout most of Florida except in the Keys. There are three subspecies of fox squirrels in Florida. The Big Cypress Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger avicennia, is found from the Caloosahatchee River in Lee county south and then east to the southern part of Dade county. Sherman's Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger shermani is found throughout most of the peninsula. The Carolina Fox Squirrel is found in the panhandle and northwards.
    
Contrary to two common names sometimes given to the Big Cypress Fox Squirrel -- Mangrove Fox Squirrel and Everglades Fox Squirrel -- it is not common in either mangrove or Everglades habitats. It is most common in open pinelands, live oak forests, and stands of bigger bald cypress.
Fox squirrels are found throughout the eastern and central United States, south into northern Mexico, and north into Canada. They have been introduced into urban areas in western North America as well.
  
Status
Big Cypress Fox Squirrel: threatened species
Sherman's Fox Squirrel: species of special concern
   
Habitat
Fox squirrels spend more time on the ground than gray squirrels and are slower moving. They forage for acorns, nuts, fruits, insects, mushrooms, buds and tubers, so they require habitats with an open understory. These include open pine flatwoods, sandhills, mixed pine-hardwood areas and rangeland interspersed with trees. In Florida, the fox squirrel may also be found in cypress stands and occasionally mangrove swamps.
Further north, fox squirrels are found in a diverse array of deciduous and mixed forest. Areas with a good variety of tree species are preferred due to variability in mast production.
   
Physical Characteristics
Fox squirrels weigh from one to three pounds, and exhibit color variations which range from a buff color to gray, and in some instances black. The under parts are usually lighter, and typical specimens have white noses with black faces and feet. They are noted for their long, bushy tails and for their strong hind legs which allows them to leap easily from place to place.
    
Fox squirrels have both a summer and winter coat, and therefore molt twice each year. The spring molt begins in March and may last for weeks, left, whereas the autumn molt begins in September. But the tail only molts once each year during the summer.
   
Fox squirrels have four sets of whiskers located above and below the eyes, on the underside of the head in front of the throat, and on the nose. Whiskers, also known as vibrissae, are touch receptors that provide the animal with information about its immediate surroundings.
   
Fox squirrels have very good eyesight even in dim light, and a wide field of vision. They also have a well developed sense of smell and hearing.
The skull of the fox squirrel has 20 teeth (gray squirrels have 22 teeth). Squirrels have upper and lower incisor teeth followed by a gap called a diastema. The diastema is where the canine teeth would normally be found in carnivorous animals such as cats or dogs, or omnivorous animals such as monkeys. Behind the diastema are the cheek or grinding teeth which consist of premolars and molars.
   
As with other rodent species, the incisors continuously grow to compensate for the enormous amount of wear that comes from a herbivorous diet.
Young squirrels have milk teeth which are replaced by permanent teeth when they are between six and twelve months old.
  
Fox squirrels are highly adapted for climbing trees and fatal falls are rare. Adaptations for climbing include sharp recurved claws, well developed extensors of digits and flexors of forearms, and abdominal musculature.
 
Tails are used for balance when running and leaping between trees, and held over the back of a resting animal.
    


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References and Sources used in this issue of SustainAbility Newsletter Include:
Audubon Lifestyles
www.audubonlifestyles.org 
  
The International Sustainability Council
www.thesustainabilitycouncil.org 

Toyota
www.toyota.com

Ford Motors
www.ford.com

Girl Scouts of America
www.girlscouts.org

Austin Ranch
www.austinranch.com

Turf Feeding Systems
www.turffeeding.com

The University of Michigan
www.umich.edu

The Dodson Group
www.thedodsongrp.com      

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SustainAbility Newsletter Archive Article (random)

Critter of the Season - The Ruby Throated Hummingbird and Bird Migration

By: Ron Dodson

HummingbirdThe Ruby-throated Hummingbird is by far the most common species that breeds in the eastern half of North America, although most states have sporadic Rufous Hummingbird sightings.

Ruby-throats are intensely inquisitive and thus easily attracted to feeders, where males in particular typically display aggressive territoriality toward rival hummers, other birds, and even insects such as bees, butterflies, and sphinx moths. They quickly become accustomed to human presence, and will swoop down to investigate red articles of clothing, possibly as potential food sources. Feeders hung at windows attract as many visitors as ones farther from structures, and the bird that claims a feeder as its territory may spend much of the day perched nearby, guarding the food source against intruders. Many hummingbird watchers find "Hummer Wars" endlessly entertaining, although the chases are obviously serious business to the hungry birds. For a short period immediately after fledging, a female will tolerate the presence of her own young at the feeder, but they are soon treated the same as other adult birds - as rivals in pursuit of the food necessary to prepare for the fall migration.

Bird migration is the regular seasonal journey undertaken by many species of birds. Bird movements include those made in response to changes in food availability, habitat or weather. These however are usually irregular or in only one direction and are termed variously as nomadism, invasions, dispersal or irruptions. Migration is marked by its annual seasonality. In contrast, birds that are non-migratory are said to be resident or sedentary. Approximately 1800 of world's 10,000 bird species are long-distance migrants.

Many bird populations migrate long distances along a flyway. The most common pattern involves flying north in the spring to breed in the temperate or Arctic summer and returning in the fall to wintering grounds in warmer regions to the south.

The primary advantage of migration is conservation of energy. The longer days of the northern summer provide greater opportunities for breeding birds to feed their young. The extended daylight hours allow diurnal birds to produce larger clutches than those of related non-migratory species that remain in the tropics year round. As the days shorten in autumn, the birds return to warmer regions where the available food supply varies little with the season.

Most migrations begin with the birds starting off in a broad front. In some cases the migration may involve narrow belts of migration that are established as traditional routes termed flyways. These routes typically follow mountain ranges or coastlines, and may take advantage of updrafts and other wind patterns or avoid geographical barriers such as large stretches of open water. The specific routes may be genetically programmed or learned to varying degrees. The routes taken on forward and return migration are often different.

Many of the larger birds fly in flocks. Flying in flocks helps in reducing the energy needed. Many large birds fly in a V-formation, which helps individuals save 12–20 % of the energy they would need to fly alone.

Birds fly at varying altitudes during migration. An expedition to Mt. Everest found skeletons of Pintail and Black-tailed Godwit at 16,400 ft on the Khumbu Glacier. Bar Headed Geese have been seen flying over the highest peaks of the Himalayas above 29000 ft even when low passes of 10000 ft were nearby. Seabirds fly low over water but gain altitude when crossing land and the reverse pattern is seen in land birds. However most bird migration is in the range of 500 ft to 2000 ft. Bird-hit aviation records from the United States show most collisions occur below 2000 ft and almost none above 6000 ft.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds breed throughout eastern to Midwestern North America, from southern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Most winter in Mexico, Central America, and on Caribbean islands, although a few remain in the Gulf States and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Most researchers accept a remarkable non-stop crossing of the Gulf of Mexico, taking 18-20 hours. They arrive at the coast in late February or early March, and follow the development of spring flowers northward. Males migrate earlier than females, in both directions; some adult males start south as early as July. By mid-November the fall migration is essentially completed throughout North America.

Many people only think about providing habitat for birds during the nesting season, but providing safe areas for birds during the fall and spring migration season may be just as important.  Even small areas can provide safe haven for the long distance migrants as they wing their way south in the fall and back north again in the spring. 

Ron Dodson is President of The Dodson Group, LLC and Chairman of the International Sustainability Council, Inc. , This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE ENTIRE NEWSLETTER IN PDF FORMAT

References and Sources used in this issue of SustainAbility Newsletter Include:

Audubon Lifestyles
www.audubonlifestyles.org

The International Sustainability Council
www.thesustainabilitycouncil.org 

Sustainability Campaign
sustainabilitycampaign.blogspot.com

EnergyStar
www.energystar.gov/

The Business Alliance for Living Economies
www.livingeconomies.org

American Society of Golf Course Architects
www.asgca.org

The United States Golf Association (USGA)
www.usga.org

Sustainable Golf & Development 
www.sustainablegolfdevelopment.com

The PGA Golf Club
www.pgavillage.com

Urbana University
www.urbana.edu

   

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