North Carolina

We have 2-foot-long squirrels? NC biologists posted a photo of one and it’s huge

North Carolina has squirrels that get as big as 26 inches and weigh as much as a chihuahua.
North Carolina has squirrels that get as big as 26 inches and weigh as much as a chihuahua.

North Carolinians have come to expect rattlesnakes, bears, alligators and possibly even Bigfoot in wooded areas, but state wildlife officials posted images this month of a lesser known oddity that is just as startling: A squirrel that is 2 feet long.

The photos were captured by camera traps in Robeson County, and reaction on Facebook can be summed up by commenter Ruth Bergstein of Greensboro: “He’s huge!”

State officials identified the animal as a fox squirrel that can grow 26 inches long (head to tail) and weigh nearly 3 pounds.

That’s about a foot taller than a beagle, according to the American Kennel Club, and twice the size of the more common gray squirrels seen in metropolitan areas like Charlotte and Raleigh, says the North Carolina Wildlife Commission.

Fox squirrels are found in the dense pine-oak forests of southeastern North Carolina, according to NCWidlife.org. They’re not known for biting people -- as long as they’re left alone, say state wildlife officials.

Fox squirrels are only “occasionally” seen by people, and those sightings are typically in the sandhills and Coastal Plain, according to wildlife officials.

By teaming up with local citizens statewide, the 'North Carolina Candid Critters' wildlife survey continues to increase scientists’ knowledge of mammal distribution in the state as the largest-ever camera-trap study of its kind.

Hunters have long been familiar with the species, but state biologists are now learning more about them through a camera trap program that is collecting photos of creatures in the remote areas of all 100 counties.

A creepy detail worth noting: Biologists say some fox squirrels are known to be almost totally black, meaning they could be invisible in the woods after dark.

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Mark Price: 704-358-5149, @markprice_obs
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