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~ ~ ~ DISTURBING IMAGE WARNING ~ ~ ~

Eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) are not always gray. Genes can mix to produce “melanistic” individuals that are jet-back, or—as seen here dining on seed regurgitated by a bluejay—tinged golden-brown:

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Rarer combinations seen hereabouts include gray with black tail, gray with white tail, and all-white (not albino but “leucistic”). Those of mixed color do not seem to persist long, perhaps due to enhanced visibility to predators. And while melanistic squirrels are not common here, they are believed to have been more so—even predominant—in earlier, shadier climax-forest condtions.

An unfortunate example of the type was (or may still be) this youngster, appearing normal in profile

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and ominously less so in quarter-view:

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Up close:

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One inference might be unsuccessful attack by a raptor; birds may aim for a quick kill in this way. But the odds seem low of a squirrel escaping from that point at all, much less with apparently undiminished capacities. And the precise positioning of the wound just above the orbits on the sagittal suture, apparent here [click through for larger images],

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suggests instead an organic cause: incompletely knit skull-bones. Humans are normally born with this condition, enabling harmless deformation during constrained birth; the soft “fontanelles” persist for months. Mammalian skulls tend to share—with modification—many structural features, including multiple skull plates that grow together, as with this local flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans or possibly G. sabrinus):

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These sutures are delicate works even under normal circumstances,

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and our subject’s may have been disrupted by illness of parent or infant, chemical toxin, or an unfortunate transcription error. Whatever the case, the animal was not long in residence here; given the species’ potential life-span of a decade (seen locally more than once) or even longer, we may hope that it found timely healing rather than untimely transfiguration.

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… a fellow of infinite jest …