Melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) gene sequence variation and melanism in the gray (Sciurus carolinensis), fox (Sciurus niger), and red (Sciurus vulgaris) squirrel

J Hered. 2014 May-Jun;105(3):423-8. doi: 10.1093/jhered/esu006. Epub 2014 Feb 17.


Sequence variations in the melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) gene are associated with melanism in many different species of mammals, birds, and reptiles. The gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), found in the British Isles, was introduced from North America in the late 19th century. Melanism in the British gray squirrel is associated with a 24-bp deletion in the MC1R. To investigate the origin of this mutation, we sequenced the MC1R of 95 individuals including 44 melanic gray squirrels from both the British Isles and North America. Melanic gray squirrels of both populations had the same 24-bp deletion associated with melanism. Given the significant deletion associated with melanism in the gray squirrel, we sequenced the MC1R of both wild-type and melanic fox squirrels (Sciurus niger) (9 individuals) and red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) (39 individuals). Unlike the gray squirrel, no association between sequence variation in the MC1R and melanism was found in these 2 species. We conclude that the melanic gray squirrel found in the British Isles originated from one or more introductions of melanic gray squirrels from North America. We also conclude that variations in the MC1R are not associated with melanism in the fox and red squirrels.

Keywords: Melanism; Melanocortin 1 receptor; Sciurus carolinensis; Sciurus niger; Sciurus vulgaris; squirrel.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genetic Association Studies
  • Genetic Variation
  • Melanosis / genetics*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Pedigree
  • Pigmentation / genetics*
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 1 / genetics*
  • Sciuridae / classification
  • Sciuridae / genetics*
  • Sequence Deletion / genetics


  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 1