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Scientists Have Finally Solved The Mystery Of The Black Squirrel

There are some things in life that we just have to accept we'll never have any answers to — why we dream, what gravity is, why Brad Pitt decided he could somehow do better than Jennifer Aniston. The list truly goes on.

For a long time, we considered black squirrels to be one of those unanswerable phenomenons in the modern world. Where did they come from? What makes their fur black? Seriously, why did Brad dump Jen?

But now, scientists think they might finally have some much-needed answers for those of us losing sleep over the curious case of the black squirrel. And it all has to do with interspecies breeding.

First of all, if you've never seen a black squirrel, it's because they really aren't very common.

Flickr | sankaranarayanann

You can usually spot one of these little guys throughout Midwestern and some parts of Eastern United States, as well as in Eastern Canada and the United Kingdom.

For everyone else, the most commonly seen squirrels are gray, brown, and maybe even red in color.

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Scientists from Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge University, and the Virginia Musuem of Natural History recently came together for the ultimate collab.

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According to The Guardian, these researchers teamed up on a project testing the DNA of squirrels, and they found that black squirrels are the product of some gray squirrels getting it on with fox squirrels.

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Yes, as it turns out this great mystery can all be explained by a few risky squirrels who were keen on going outside of their own species for breeding.

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The researchers' findings, which were published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, explain that black squirrels are actually the same species as the common gray squirrels, but have acquired their glossy, charcoal coat through a faulty pigment gene — the same one found in the fox squirrel, which turns their fur a darker shade.

In fact, some fox squirrels can actually have black fur themselves.

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So how exactly did a gray squirrel and a fox squirrel end up doing the devil's tango if they come from different species?

Unsplash | Osman Köycü

Well, it's a tale as old as time, really. Very Romeo and Juliet-like, if I do say so myself.

Or, as researchers theorize, perhaps it was as simple as a black fox squirrel boldly joining in on a mating chase with some gray squirrels, and finding itself a female companion.

The rest, as they say, is history.

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Helen McRobie of Anglia Ruskin University said that black squirrel sightings in North America may have something to do with their dark fur.

Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Black_Squirrel_(34710237204).jpg

"The fact that black squirrels have become so common right across North America is possible because black fur offers a thermal advantage, helping them inhabit regions with extremely cold winters," she told The Guardian.

"This may have contributed to the expansion of the grey squirrel's range during the past 11,000 years, following the end of the most recent ice age, helping them spread further north into Canada."

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As for how black squirrels ended up in the UK, we have humans to thank for that.

Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Black_squirrel_carrying_a_walnut_in_its_mouth,_close_view.jpg

Black squirrels were imported to Britain from North America over 100 years ago where they were placed in private zoos. However, they soon escaped, and began popping up all over the country. Now, they're most commonly spotted in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, and Cambridgeshire.

Clearly, they favor the shires.

h/t: The Guardian, BMC Evolutionary Biology

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