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Photo: Red Squirrel in the Smoky Mountains

We recently went to the Smoky Mountains to film the elk but when we got there we decided to take a side road instead of heading straight to the meadows where we normally find them. That was a great decision. Not only did we see a few monarchs flying south (migrating to Mexico) but I had my first sighting of an American Red Squirrel right here in North Carolina.

Red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)
Red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)

We had no idea they lived so far south, but the Appalachian Mountains serve as a peninsula for this mountain-loving rodent and the Smokies are the southernmost point of their eastern range.

The American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) is smaller than the Eastern Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), and lacks the ear tufts that are characteristic of the European Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris). One of the features that will help you discern the American Red Squirrel from the Grey is that the Red Squirrel has a white circle around its eyes (besides the fact that it is reddish and not grey!)

American red squirrel collecting walnuts
Red squirrel collecting walnuts

We caught this guy in the middle of a feeding frenzy. He spent half his time collecting these giant walnuts and piling them on his personal stash, and half his time feeding on them.

Did you know that there are white squirrels in North Carolina?

Cristina Garcia

Zoologist and wildlife photographer. She has worked in the field with jackals, wolves, cheetahs, & leopards. She serves on the Board of Directors of SEE Turtles, a non-profit sea turtle conservation organization.

Read her posts at Travel For Wildlife and see more of her work at Truly Wild, & Our Wild Yard.