Squirrels, in general, are pretty cute and are the most common mammal in North America. There are several types of squirrels that you might see around your home. Still, this article focuses on the larger reddish-brown “eastern” fox squirrel and the smaller “eastern” gray squirrel. But have you ever been faced with the dilemma of the differences between the fox squirrel vs gray squirrel? Don’t worry! In this article, you’ll learn all about these furry friends so that you can decide which one is your favorite.
Fox and Gray Squirrel Family
In the United States, both the Fox and the Gray were intentionally introduced to urban areas in the early 1920s. The purpose was to watch a wildlife animal in person and serve as a pet.
The Fox Squirrel (or Eastern Fox Squirrel) and the Gray Squirrel (also known as the Eastern Gray squirrel) are rodents in the Sciuridae family. Fox squirrels are divided into ten subfamilies, and Grays have five. Tree squirrels, ground squirrels, chipmunks, and marmots are part of the Sciuridae family.
- Southern Fox squirrel (Sciurus niger niger)
- Eastern Fox squirrel (Sciurus niger vulpinus)
- Texas Fox squirrel (Sciurus niger limitis)
- Western Fox squirrel (Sciurus niger rufiventer)
- Delta Fox squirrel (Sciurus niger subauratus)
- Big Cypress Fox squirrel (Sciurus niger avicinnia)
- Upland Fox squirrel (Sciurus niger bachmani)
- Delmarva Fox squirrel (Sciurus niger cinereus)
- Pineywoods Fox squirrel (Sciurus niger ludovicianus)
- Sherman’s Fox squirrel (Sciurus niger shermani)
- Eastern Gray Squirrel (sciurus carolinensis carolinensis)
- sciurus carolinensis extimus
- sciurus carolinensis fuliginosus
- sciurus carolinensis hypophaeus
- sciurus carolinensis pennsylvanicus
Differences in Physical Characteristics
size and Weight
There are many differences between fox squirrels and gray squirrels, but their size is most noticeable. Fox squirrels are the largest of the tree squirrels and, on average, weigh 1.6 to 2.3 pounds, measuring 20 to 30 inches in length with a 10-15 inch body and tail measurements of approximately the same.
There is a 10-inch difference in length between the largest Fox and the largest Gray squirrel. Pound for pound, you would need 3 gray squirrels to equal the weight of one Fox squirrel! On the other hand, Gray squirrels weigh an average of 19 ounces and grow to about 20 inches in length.
Even smaller than the Gray squirrel is the North American Red squirrel. At its heaviest, the Red squirrel weighs around 12 ounces.
In fact, speaking of Red squirrels, there is an enchanting 30-minute short filmed in Sweden by photographer Dani Connor. She documents the rescue of four motherless baby Eurasian Red squirrels. She forms a special bond with the babies and other squirrels in the forest. I promise you won’t be disappointed by watching Connor’s The Squirrels & Me.
Gray squirrels are gray on their backsides with white underbellies and a tail that is frosted in white. The Fox squirrel has an orange to reddish-brown tint on its belly with a grizzled tan and black backside. The tail has a black outline. Other differences in their appearance are that the Fox’s have more prominent and furrier ears, a longer, softer coat, with a wider bushier tail.
Fox squirrels and eastern gray squirrels share some overlapping native ranges. They can be found in most eastern United States, southern Canada, northern Mexico, and western North America. Both Foxes and Grays spend much of their lives up in trees, known as arboreal, but Foxes spend the most time of all the tree squirrels on the ground. Both also prefer living in forests because of the abundance of food. However, these animals are clever and resilient enough to live anywhere with plenty of trees.
Differences in Behavior
Fox squirrels are active during the day, called diurnal, and sleep at night. On the other hand, Gray squirrels are primarily crepuscular: they’re most active in the early morning and late afternoon.
The two species have a primarily solitary lifestyle. Adults will sometimes share a den in cold weather and females with their offspring while raising them, but for the most part, they don’t interact other than to gather when eating. The two species are not aggressive over their territory. Still, there is a dominant hierarchy, and they will defend their nest and food from others.
The squirrels spend their idle time in their nest, or they may lie atop a tree branch. They’re immaculate and spend some of the days on personal grooming. Generally, they go to bed early before it gets dark outside- curling up into a tight ball well before sunset.
Tree squirrels don’t hibernate as some mammals do during the winter months; instead, they will spend several days at a time curled up in their nest. The Fall is when they’re the most active, as hints of cold weather trigger an instinct to find and bury their winter food. They also begin eating more, packing on lots of fat to help them through the winter.
Fox Squirrel vs Gray Squirrel Territory & Environment
The eastern Fox and eastern Gray squirrel thrive wherever food is and are perfectly happy to nest close to humans. They are persistent when hungry and will cross open fields, roads, or power lines just for a chance of finding isolated trees or food. They adapt well and are flexible to a variety of living conditions.
Since squirrels are open to living just about anywhere, they are known for building their nest in residential homes abandoned houses. But, a nesting box is an easy solution before they have a chance to invade a home.
You might be asking, squirrels are fantastic at building nests; why would someone place a nesting box in a tree?
There are several reasons to mount a nesting box for your backyard squirrels:
First, the box provides shelter from predators, like hawks and cats. Second, the house keeps all squirrels, especially mommas and babies, warm and dry from severe weather conditions. A third reason is it acts as a deterrent from squirrels setting up their vacation condo in your attic or other parts of your home.
If you consider supplying a nesting box or feeder for squirrels, birds, butterflies, or even planters, take a peek at Back2NatureWood on Etsy. They have everything your need for your backyard visitors. Plus, their quality nesting boxes, whether for squirrels or other animals, are built with the requirements of each animal in mind.
Differences in Mating Habits
The eastern fox squirrel has a promiscuous mating life where both males and females have multiple mates. Males usually compete for mating rights to the female. Fox squirrels have two defined breeding seasons: one in December-February, and the other lasts from May to June. A momma squirrel’s pregnancy or gestation lasts 44 – 45 days. They can give birth to up to 7 babies, but they have 2 to 3 little ones on average.
Females can have up to 2 litters per year but usually only yield one litter. Kittens (baby squirrels) are cared for by their mothers until they are weaned at 12 – 14 weeks and become fully independent at 16 weeks old. Males reach sexual maturity at 10-11 months and females at eight months old.
Like the fox squirrel, the eastern gray squirrel also leads a promiscuous mating life. Males compete for females as well. Mating occurs in December-February and May-June but can be slightly later in northern areas. The gestation period is 40-44 days and can bear up to 9 babies, but on average, they have 2 or 3 kittens (babies). Females that are younger and less experienced mothers usually only have one litter of young each spring.
The young wean around ten weeks of age, but some can take up to 16 weeks in the wild. They will leave the nest at 12 weeks of age and venture out independently. Babies born in the Fall will often stay with their mother all winter. Males breed as early as 11 months and females from 5 and 1/2 months old to 1.25 years.
The life expectancy of a captive-raised fox squirrel has been reported to be up to 18 years, while in the wild, it can live 12 or more years. The life span for gray squirrels is an average of six years in the wild but 20 when raised in captivity. Researchers estimate many squirrels don’t make it to adulthood due to predators and weather conditions.
Finally, if you have any comparison facts between the Fox and Gray squirrels, or anything you would like to share, please leave a comment below or use our contact page.
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Here are some frequently asked questions when comparing the Fox squirrel vs Gray squirrel.
Is a Fox squirrel the same as a Red squirrel?
Fox squirrels are sometimes confused with American red squirrels. However, the American red squirrel can be identified by its size alone. Red squirrels are significantly smaller than both the Fox and gray, averaging eight ounces in Weight. The American red squirrel is nicknamed the “pine” squirrel because pinecone seeds make up most food intake.
Resource: Animal Facts Encyclopedia
Do Fox and Gray Squirrels Mate?
This question has a differing opinion depending on who you ask. A study published in the journal “BMC Evolutionary Biology” explains when gray squirrels mate with fox squirrels, they pass on a gene variant to their offspring resulting in a black-phase gray squirrel. The same gene variant also gives some Fox squirrels their reddish-brown fur.
Resource: BMC Evolutionary Biology
Are Fox Squirrels and Gray Squirrels Aggressive by Nature?
Fox squirrels are playful and active, but they’re not aggressive towards people. Similarly, gray squirrels won’t attack unless they feel their young is threatened or if the animal has rabies (which is extremely rare).
Are Fox Squirrels or Gray Squirrels Endangered?
Fox squirrels are the most populous squirrel in North America. The gray squirrel is seen more often, but they don’t outnumber the Fox squirrel. Neither one are endangered animals, and their conservation status is stable and of least concern.
Resource: Animal Facts Encyclopedia
Bonus Squirrel Tip – Water Requirements
Both Fox and gray squirrels will drink water from a bowl in your backyard or other water sources like puddles, ponds, rainwater, or reservoirs. However, squirrels usually get the water they need from dew or succulent vegetation.