A white shade of tail

…and of the entire body, actually.

A true albino gray squirrel, complete with red eyes and all white fur.

A true albino gray squirrel, complete with red eyes and all white fur.

One of the more unusual sights I saw on my morning walk today.  There is no blending into your environment when you are this white and stand out against deep green vegetation and dark brown bark.  I can’t imagine that white squirrels have a long life expectancy, but maybe this one will survive until it snows, and get the last laugh after all.

White-furred gray squirrels may be true albinos that cannot manufacture melanin pigment in either their skin or eyes, or their skin pigment expression may be turned off, while they retain their dark eye color (Leucism or Leukistic).

A white variant of the gray squirrel has all white, or white with faint gray patches, fur and dark pigmented eyes.

A white variant of the gray squirrel has all white, or white with faint gray patches, fur and dark pigmented eyes.  Photo from: http://onthetrailmyfwd.blogspot.com/2012/06/backyard-birder-wilson-white-squirrel.html

True white squirrels (non-albino) are more common than you might think — for a recessive trait that seems to be an advertisement to predators.  In the areas where they occur (see map below), the white variant makes up about 25-30% of the population, exactly what the Mendelian genetics of a recessive trait would predict. This is discussed in far greater detail here.  In comparison, the incidence of true albinism is far rarer (e.g., only 0.006% of humans exhibit the albino trait).

Distribution of white squirrels in the eastern U.S.  9 sites report incidence of albinism, other sites have significant proportions of white-furred, dark-eyed squirrels.

Distribution of white squirrels in the eastern U.S. 8 sites in the midwest report incidence of albinism, other sites have significant proportions of white-furred, dark-eyed squirrels.

It turns out there are a number of organizations and communities that celebrate their white squirrel populations with festivals, webpages, fieldtrips, institutes for the study of white squirrels, etc.  Who knew white squirrels were so popular!

whitesquirrel-Brevard NC

10 thoughts on “A white shade of tail

    • The funny thing on this particular day — I saw a black squirrel for the first time this fall run across the road right before I took my walk and saw the white squirrel. Amazing coincidence! According to the map (such as it is), I think you would need to go visit Mike Powell’s area to see white squirrels.

  1. We have lots of black squirrels in our area, but I have never seen a white one (and I am pretty sure I would have noticed if one came into view). It’s strange, but my first thought was it was some kind of Arctic squirrel, that shared the coloration of the polar bear and Arctic hare. I suspect it was intentional on your part, Sue, but your title brings to mind a wonderful song from my youth, the 1967 hit “A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procol Harum.

    • You got it! I was trying to be cute, but not too obvious. Not much gets past you, though, especially with regard to music of the 60’s. I have a special love for that song, because I first heard it when I was an exchange student in a small town in New South Wales, Australia.

  2. That’s very cool–I knew about the varieties of white squirrels but didn’t know there were such identifiable pockets of white ones (and festivals, to boot!).

    My labrador would chase any and all of them 😉 She is frequently scolded for this from on high by our resident Douglas’s squirrel!

    • This particular white squirrel was very skittish — as if it had been chased many times before. One crunch of my foot on a branch, and it took off like a shot. Even another squirrel’s chattering made it jump from the ground up a tree, where i barely had time to get a photo before it scurried to a greater height.

  3. Pingback: Of freckle-faced redheads and black squirrels | Back Yard Biology

  4. Pingback: White Squirrel | Mike Powell

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