Southern Fox Squirrel
(Sciurus niger niger)


Fox squirrels are closely related to gray squirrels and are considered to be the most variably colored tree squirrels in the world. In South Carolina, fox squirrels occur and are characterized as the gray, black , or brown color phase based on their predominate body color. The gray color phase is by far the most common in South Carolina, accounting for 67% of all sightings in the 2022 Fox Squirrel Sighting Survey conducted by the SCDNR Small Game Program. Sightings of black fox squirrels accounted for 31% of all sightings, with only 2% of all sightings reported as brown. A black facial "mask" and white patches on the nose, paws, and ear tips are common in all three color phases. This facial mask and the significantly larger body size of the fox squirrel distinguish the fox squirrel from the more common and widely-distributed gray squirrel.

Average Size
Fox squirrels are approximately twice the size of gray squirrels. They range in length from 20-26 inches (including tail) with an adult weight range from about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds.

Life Expectancy
Fox squirrels that survive to become adults live an average of 3 to 4 years. Individual animals have been known to live as long as 12 years.

Preferred Habitat
In South Carolina, fox squirrels are strongly associated with mature pine forests and mature pine-hardwood forests. Fox squirrels prefer woodland habitats with an open herbaceous understory and patchy shrub cover. Prescribed fire in pine woodlands benefits fox squirrels by creating and maintaining this condition. Where present, forest stands dominated by live oak can be a seasonally important habitat type. Small agricultural fields and wildlife food plots are often utilized when located within the normal home range of fox squirrels. Parks and golf courses may also support substantial numbers of fox squirrels in certain locations across the state.


Fox squirrel populations in South Carolina are scattered throughout the Coastal Plain, occur less often in the Piedmont, and are rare to absent in the Blue Ridge. Distribution and range expansion are limited by availability of suitable habitat.

Food Habits

  • Fox squirrels are opportunistic feeders known to consume a variety of food items.
  • Diet will vary somewhat depending on season and local food item availability.
  • Common food items for fox squirrels include pine seed, acorns, hickory nuts, cultivated and native seeds, fleshy fruits, flower buds, tubers, roots, and fungi.
  • Bird eggs and insects are occasionally consumed by fox squirrels.


Peak Breeding Activity
While fox squirrels may exhibit two peaks of breeding – late winter and late summer, the majority of breeding in fox squirrels likely takes place in December and January. Gestation period is about 44 days, with most young born during February and March. Normal litters in South Carolina consist of two or three young.


  • Fox squirrels are occasionally observed at bird feeders if those feeders are near areas of occupied fox squirrel habitat.
  • Some of the better areas to observe fox squirrels in South Carolina include the Webb Wildlife Center in Hampton County, Donnelley Wildlife Management Area in Colleton County, and Cheraw State Park in Chesterfield County.
  • The fox squirrels large body size and black coloration may be adaptations to living in a fire-maintained longleaf pine ecosystem. The large body size of fox squirrels allows them to handle and manipulate longleaf pine cones; black coloration provides camouflage in a fire-blackened landscape.

Publications and Literature

SCDNR Fox Squirrel Sighting Surveys

Hunting Information

Fox squirrels are considered a game animal in South Carolina and may be hunted along with gray squirrels. Squirrel season annually in South Carolina opens on October 1 and closes on March 1. Fox squirrels have trophy value to many squirrel hunters and are prized as taxidermy mounts. Due to the lower reproductive potential of fox squirrels as compared to gray squirrels, fox squirrel populations can be severely depressed by heavy gunning pressure.

Hunters are advised that fox squirrel hunting is not allowed on many properties in the Wildlife Management Area (WMA) program and are advised to consult the current version of the SCDNR Rules and Regulations for information on specific properties.

Michael W. Hook - Small Game Program Leader

P.O. Box 167
Columbia, SC 29202-0167
Phone: 803-734-3940
Fax: 803-734-3691