The origins of melanism in Eastern gray squirrels

black squrrel

As long-time readers of this blog know, the black coloration seen in North America and Italian wolves and in coyotes originated in domestic dogs. Indeed, the black coloration in North American wolves originated from a single introgression of a black domestic dog in the Northwest Territories or the Yukon between 1,598 and 7,248 years ago.  Of course, we now know that there is significant gene flow between dogs and certain populations of gray wolf and that this gene flow has been going on for some time.

I have often wondered about color genetics and gene flow between species. One species that is particularly beguiling for speculation for me was always the origin of melanism in Eastern gray squirrels. Melanistic Eastern gray squirrels are more common in Ontario, Quebec, and Michigan, but there are isolated populations south of these locations.

A new paper just published in BMC Biology revealed that melanism in Eastern gray squirrels most likely had its origins from hybridization with the fox squirrel.

Melanism has evolved twice in fox squirrels. The melanistic ones in the Southeast have a mutation called ASIP A3.  Melanistic Western fox squirrels have a mutation that causes a deletion in the MC1R. This allele is called MC1R∆24.

What is interesting is that melanistic Eastern gray squirrel have the same mutation.

The authors contend that the most likely explanation for this shared mutation is hybridization between fox and Eastern gray squirrels, although ancestral polymorphisms and earlier hybridization between gray squirrels and fox squirrels cannot be ruled out as possible origins either. However, The authors think it originated in fox squirrels because it resembles other fox squirrel MC1R haplotypes.

This finding is pretty interesting because I live where both species are common, and I use to live where there were lots of black gray squirrels.  I had read accounts of fox squirrels mating with gray ones, but the accounts I read said that no offspring resulted from the mating.

I assumed that the two species could not hybridize, and I still have not seen any literature that even suggests hybridization could occur until I read this paper.

More work is going to be needed to see exactly how this mutation originated and if there are other traits that originated in one species that now are found in the other.

And yes, there is that old wives’ tail that says that gray squirrels castrate fox squirrels to reduce the competition. What actually happens is that when squirrels are hunted in the early part of the season, the testicles shrink in size, so that they appear to have been castrated.

But I have never heard of these two species hybridizing. Indeed, it may be that the hybridization that transferred that particular mutation onto Eastern gray squirrels happened far back in the evolutionary history of both species, when they were still chemically interfertile.

However, they might still be able to hybridize. It is just that no one has ever documented a true hybrid between the two species.

But I am certainly open to the possibility.

So it is likely that black gray squirrels resulted from introgression, just as black wolves and coyotes do.

Natural History

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Pretty Girl

dare pretty girl

dare pretty

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Natural History

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Taking Your Dog to the Beach: Tips for a Successful 1st Trip

Sun, sand, surf—and Spot: all the ingredients for a great summer getaway–and there’s still time in these dog days of summer to squeeze in a beach trip! Your dog’s first beach vacation is…



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DogTipper

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Deadly Blue Green Algae: Keeping Your Dog Safe

This week has been hotter than hot here in Texas–so, of course, nothing is more fun than to take the dogs for a swim. Sadly, this week has been tragic for several pet families due to dog deaths…



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DogTipper

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Keeping the lines going

erika on the lawn

Greyhound racing in the United States is on its way out. Florida was the last large state that had lots of tracks going, but in the 2018 general election, Florida voters decided to phase out professional greyhound racing.

In the short run, these dogs are going to filter their way into rescues. The vast majority of them will find homes. And every single one of them will be neutered.

Because only a handful of states will have racing, it is very unlikely that thousands of racing greyhounds will be bred every year. When this generation of adopted out greyhounds dies, the greyhound owning public will not have many options.

Yes, they can buy a show-bred greyhound, go out West and get a coursing dog, or they get a whippet or borzoi.  I suspect that galgos from Spain will be imported over here in very high numbers.

But if they want a sport-bred greyhound that derives from racing lines, they will essentially be out of luck.  However, they won’t be.

Several of us are close enough to forward-thinking racing dog owners to get our hands on intact racing greyhounds that we will be breeding. Erika is scheduled to be bred on her next heat, and we already have the sire picked out. Stay tuned for updates on him.

And we will do what we can to keep the American racing greyhound lines alive the best we can. We already have lots of homes lined up for this coming litter, so the demand for these dogs is quite high. The litter will be AKC-registered, so they can enter the “legit” greyhound population and do AKC-sanctioned events.

We will be helping these lines see a future beyond greyhound racing, and I have to say that I’m proud be part of this project.

So yeah, I’m deep in show dogs now, but we are working on keeping some nice working lines of a breed going into the future.

I’m pretty excited about it.

 

 

Natural History

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Papers

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Natural History

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Friday Funny: Baby Deer For Sale

I hope this brought a smile to your weekend! Happy Friday! Until next time, Good day, and good dog!


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Sweet Summer Vacation

Sweet Summer Vacation

Before Robbie and I had kids, we traveled pretty consistently, both with his job (most of you already know this, but he’s the stage manager for a band and works on tour half the year) and on our own. And while we still travel quite a bit with the kids (both on road trips several times a year and by plane two or three times a year), it’s much less. Much, much less.

Last winter, we decided we were going to take a vacation this summer, just the four of us, no matter what. It wasn’t going to be visit anyone or for a work campaign for me or to tag along with him to work (which, let’s face it, aren’t vacations for him at all because he is busy the entire time). We’d never taken a real vacation that was just about our little family, and it just felt necessary. Then spring passed, and summer arrived, and there was still nothing in the works. Vacations are expensive, and they take a lot of planning with kids and job schedules and all that, and it seemed like our well meaning plans weren’t realistic.

But then I had an idea. Around 1 AM one night while lying in bed when Robbie was on tour, I remembered how a friend of Robbie’s in the hotel business has been recently transferred to Clearwater Beach, Florida. And despite the fact that July was the only time Robbie would have a week off for a vacation and that it is genuinely the worst time of the year to visit Florida (so, so hot), I started researching Clearwater Beach and was smitten. (I mean, give anyone in this family a nice sandy beach and an ocean and we are beyond happy.) A few phone calls and some airline points later, and our trip was officially planned.

As you read this, we’re already high in the sky on our way there. And for once, I’m actually going to take a real vacation from work too, so there won’t be any posts here, and my Instagram will likely be just a bunch of nonstop Stories (because let’s face it, I’m an oversharer and even a real vacation can’t stop me.)

I’d love to hear about any trips you’ve taken or will be taken this summer. (Aside from a couple of short road trips, this is it for us. Essley starts kindergarten in 3 weeks!) And if you’re curious and want to see some of the travels we’ve taken in the past (like our trip to Mexico in December for Robbie’s work, as seen in the photo in this post), click here.

Happy summer vaca!

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Bubby and Bean ::: Living Creatively

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7 Tips for Conquering Summertime Laundry

This post is in partnership with Samsung, but all opinions are my own.

I’m admittedly not a neat or organized person by nature, and I basically abhor housework. You know what I do like though? A nice, clean, pretty house. I might not like the act of making it that way, but I sure do like the finished product. And the first room we remodeled in our home after we bought it was the laundry room, for this very reason. See, I kind of think that a nice, clean, pretty house starts with laundry. Laundry, especially if you have kids, seems to take over the entire house, strewn everywhere from the floor to beds to tables and more. And I knew that in order to keep our house in a state where there was even the possibility of it looking nice, we needed a new washer and dryer that worked really well, and a more functional laundry room. It made a big difference.

Then summertime rolled around, and many of my laundry challenges seemed to return, but in a whole new way. Summer means a lack of structure (kids out of school = mayhem), outdoor activities galore, sticky/dirty/dripping/melted foods, and a whole lot of sweat. Summer is messy. Summer is wet. Summer is dirty. Summer is stinky. Summer is the high season for laundry. But thanks to lots of practice, experimenting, and my beloved Samsung AddWash Front-Load Washer and Samsung 7.5-cu Gas Dryer, I feel like I’ve been able to conquer summertime laundry like a champ this year.  And today, I’m doing to share some of my tips with you!

7 Tips for Conquering Summertime Laundry

1. Put your summertime laundry in the machine immediately.
After enough wet towels piled up in our car and/or on the laundry room counter after pool days, it was time for a change in our system. We have a rule around here now, and wet swim suits and towels go into the washing machine immediately. There is no hitting the ground. The same holds true for t-shirts dripped with ice cream and grass stained shorts and sandy swim trunks. This tip makes summer laundry so much easy. Trust me on this.

7 Tips for Conquering Summertime Laundry

2. Steam wash those stains.
Let’s get real here. No one has time for keeping up with pre-treating summer stains. I can’t tell you how many of my daughter’s cute little sundresses have been covered with chocolate ice cream and watermelon drippings, and immediately running to get the laundry soap to pre-treat just isn’t first on my list this time of year. Thankfully, our Samsung AddWash Front-Load Washer uses the power of steam to remove stains, making pre-treatment unnecessary. I also absolutely love how our Samsung washer releases steam from the bottom of the laundry tub (most washers release from the top), because it allows every item in the load to get saturated. The best!

3. Use vinegar to combat mildew smell.
As much as we try to get wet beach towels into the machine and washed right away, there always seems to be a loan towel left outside for days (or more) that inevitably starts to smell like mildew. Yuck. Thankfully, adding a cup or two of vinegar to the washer makes the smell disappear in one cycle.

7 Tips for Conquering Summertime Laundry
7 Tips for Conquering Summertime Laundry

4. Fold right out of the dryer. 
Building a counter for our washer and dryer, was one of the best design decisions we made, because it makes it so easy to fold immediately. But even if you don’t have a counter, setting up a small table or just folding right on top of your washer and dryer works fine as well. I used to transfer everything to a laundry basket and bring the laundry upstairs to fold on the bed, which meant it actually didn’t get folded for hours (or, if we’re being honest here, days) and ended up a wrinkled mess. Now we fold right after a load is done drying, right there on the counter. This is a game changer, especially for summer beach towels, which end up taking over our laundry this time of year.

7 Tips for Conquering Summertime Laundry
7 Tips for Conquering Summertime Laundry

5. Let the kids help.
Okay, maybe that should read “make the kids help.” My kids are little and actually like helping with the laundry though, and it’s a great way to (1) add structure to summer days (which my kids need) and (2) get laundry done more quickly.

7 Tips for Conquering Summertime Laundry

6. Add a touch of summer to your laundry room.
Perhaps this seems a little unnecessary, but to someone like me who just operates better in a space that feels aesthetically pleasing, it makes a difference. I love putting fresh cut flowers from our garden in as many rooms as possible during the summer months, but especially in places like the kitchen and laundry room where the most housework takes place. It’s a simple way to brighten up the space with one of the best parts of the season (flowers!), and makes chores just feel more enjoyable. (Try it and you may just become a believer.)

7 Tips for Conquering Summertime Laundry

7. Get the right washer and dryer.
This is the most important tip and one I can’t stress enough! When we moved into our home, the washing machine and dryer that came with the house worked okay (or so we thought), but we knew we needed to get machines that were more efficient. We ended up choosing a Samsung AddWash Front-Load Washer and Samsung 7.5-cu Gas Dryer, and I am telling you guys, they are my favorite appliances I’ve ever owned. Truly. It’s been a full year since we got them and they’ve made laundry infinitely easier year-round, but especially in the summertime. I love everything about the washer – from the super speed (we can do a full load in 30 minutes and it comes out just as clean as an hour long cycle) to the AddWash™ door, which allows us to throw in forgotten pieces of laundry during a cycle (which happens constantly in the summer months) instead of having to do a whole additional load. And the dryer’s steam wrinkle away and steam sanitize cycles are true summertime lifesavers. We’re also big fans of the dryer’s vent sensor, which detects duct blockages and reminds us to clean our vent (something we tend to forget in the chaos of summer). I’m so grateful we have both of them!

7 Tips for Conquering Summertime Laundry

There you have it friends: my tips for conquering your summertime laundry! If you have any to add, I’d love to hear them. May the rest of your summer be full of adventures in the sunshine, lazy outdoor evenings, and lots of fresh, clean laundry.

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Bubby and Bean ::: Living Creatively

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Our New Baby

We added this adorable 4-month old Vizsla to our family today. We want to name her something to do with the color red, and have narrowed it down to the choices below. Which is your favorite? Until next time, Good day, and good dog!


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