If you have seen a big squirrel with a long, bushy, fox-like tail, Florida wildlife biologists need your help.
What you saw was a Florida fox squirrel, and biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are asking you to record your sighting online as part of a research project.
"The fox squirrel survey is a wonderful opportunity for children and adults to become amateur naturalists and get involved in conserving Florida's wildlife," said conservation commission wildlife biologist Courtney Hooker. "We will learn more about where the Florida fox squirrels are."
Fox squirrels are twice the size of common gray squirrels. They often have distinctive, masked faces with a black head and white nose and ears, but there are wide variations in coloration — from tan to gray or black.
The fox squirrel survey is part of a research project by the conservation commission and the University of Florida Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. It combines the latest in online-mapping technology with the public's enthusiasm about sharing wildlife observations.
The survey began in August and data will be collected through at least January. So far about 600 sightings have been logged.
Fox squirrels have been observed throughout Florida, but knowledge about their distribution is limited. Fox squirrels spend more time on the ground than in trees and often escape enemies by running. Their favorite food is pine seed.
The Sherman's fox squirrel is found in Central and northeast Florida pine forests and is a state species of special concern. The Big Cypress fox squirrel is a state-threatened species in southwest Florida. The Southeastern fox squirrel lives in the Panhandle. All of Florida's fox squirrels are protected from hunting.
For information on fox squirrels, visit the "Species Profiles" area of MyFWC.com/Wildlife.