The rise of the super squirrel: have you seen a black squirrel?

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THEY are big, black and fierce and are thought to be scampering across swathes of the Cambridgeshire countryside in huge numbers.

THEY are big, black and fierce and are thought to be scampering across swathes of the Cambridgeshire countryside in huge numbers.But amazingly, no one has seen hide nor hair of the black super squirrel in Peterborough.

Rangers in the city's beauty spots thought we had gone nuts when they were asked if they had spotted the creatures.

But according to experts at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, there are around 25,000 black squirrels in East Anglia and they are rapidly taking over from their grey cousins.

Researchers at the university also solved a mystery about the squirrels' origins.

Have you seen a black squirrel in the Peterborough area?

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Factfile: squirrels

Squirrels belong to the order Rodentia.

With 1,650 species, it is the largest group of living mammals.

They include the tree squirrel, ground squirrel, and flying squirrel.

Squirrels are the most active in late winter, when the mating season begins.

The males will chase a females, as well as chasing off other suitors. This ritual of chasing occurs through the trees at top speed while they perform some breathtaking acrobatics.

A squirrel's brain is about the size of a walnut.

Squirrels communicate through a series of chirps. The frequency, and the duration of the notes communicate everything from laughter to alarm.

The male tree squirrel takes twice as long as the female to groom itself. They are the cleanest animal in the rodent family.

Quashing the theory that they evolved through a genetic mutation, DNA tests showed they were the descendants of American blacks that hopped to freedom from zoos.

Dr Alison Thomas, senior lecturer in genetics at Anglia Ruskin University, who carried out the research with Helen McRobbie, predicted that the squirrels could be populating Peterborough hedgegrows within a few years.

She said: "We have no records of them in Peterborough. The closest is parts of Huntingdon and villages along the River Ouse.

"But I think, in a few years, they will come this way by interbreeding with the grey population, no doubt about it.

"It's about if they can find the right kind of environment in the Fens. They need trees but they also live in urban areas in copses and hedgegrows.

"I think within a decade, we will see them in Peterborough."

The black squirrel was first spotted in the UK 90 years ago in Hitchin, Hertfordshire.

But it now accounts for almost half of all squirrels in some areas around Cambridgeshire.

However, when ranger at Central Park Mark Swift was asked whether he had seen one, he thought we were pulling his leg.

He said: "Is it April 1?

"There are a fair few squirrels here and I've even had one sit on my head, but I've never seen a black one.

"There's got to be pockets of them in Cambridgeshire, but I don't know of any in this area.

"I would like to see one, but it would depend how big it was."

Reserve warden at Hampton Nature Reserve Francesca Barker, also ruled out any black squirrels roaming the area.

Ranger at Ferry Meadows Greg Higby said: "I've never seen any and we've never had any reports for as long as I've been here.

"But you never know. If they are more dominant, they may make their way here."

The blacks are a subspecies of grey squirrels, but in some areas, have already become the dominant variety.

They could provide an even bigger threat to the UK's native species of red squirrel, which had already been almost wiped out by greys.

The Evening Telegraph is now asking Peterborough's eagle-eyed wildlife fans if they have spied a black squirrel. If so, call Asha Mehta on 01733 588732.