For many of us on the West Coast of North America the existence of a white squirrel is difficult to imagine, but it is not as uncommon as you may think! Populations of white squirrels can be found in places across the United States and sightings of these mystical creatures are becoming more common. 🦄🐿👀
The white squirrels we see in North America are the result of various rare genetic variants or mutations. However, in Thailand and other parts of East Asia there is a sub-species of tree squirrel, the Finlayson's squirrel (Callosciurus finlaysonii), in which a white coat is characteristic of the species. White coats may be common place amongst this group, but broadly speaking it is still a vary rare squirrel color. There are over 200 species of squirrels and only one subspecies is found to have white as a primary color morph! 🌈🐿
There are two primary forms of white squirrels in the United States- albino squirrels and a rare morph of the eastern grey squirrel.
The easiest way to know if the white squirrel you spotted is albino or a rare morph is by its eye color. Albino squirrels are completely white with red or pink eyes. This unique eye color is found in all albino animals and is a result of a lack of melanin pigments that produce eye and coat color. Albinism is a genetic condition caused by a recessive gene. This means that both the mom and dad squirrel have to be carriers of this gene in order to produce albino offspring. This is what makes it so rare! It is estimated that 20-30% of white squirrels in North America are albino.
The rare white morph of the eastern grey squirrel has black eyes and can have a mix of white and grey coat. Similar to albino squirrels, white eastern grey squirrels owe their unique coat color to their genes. But, unlike albino squirrels who have a mutation on the gene coding for pigmentation, western grey squirrels actually have a gene that codes for a white coat! Despite having this 'white coat' gene, it still only occurs very rarely because being so brightly colored makes a squirrel less able to blend in amongst the trees and thus more visible to predators.
Here are some examples of the diversity seen amongst white morph squirrels:
Squirrels that are white due to this white coat color gene are more common than albino squirrels and account for roughly 70% of the white squirrel population in the United States.
Lastly, if you know me you know I have a special affinity for the eastern fox squirrel. 🐿💕💁🏻♀️ White coat color has also been spotted in these guys. However, fox squirrels do not have the gene that western grey squirrels have that codes for a white coat. White eastern fox squirrels occur due to a condition called leucism. Unlike the mutation that causes albinism which prevents the production of melanin, leucism is caused by a decrease in several different types of pigments. Fox squirrels with leucism will not have pink or red eyes but may have patches of white or pale fur.
Take a look! 👀
Where can you see a white squirrel? 🐿👀
Catching sight of these rare variations of squirrels is tough unless you know where to find them. There are five main cities that claim to be the official ‘home of the white squirrel’.
1. Olney, Illinois
2. Marionville, Missouri
3. Brevard, North Carolina
4. Exeter, Ontario Canada
5. Kenton, Tennessee
Traveling to one of these locations will greatly increase the success of your white squirrel sighting adventure!
Below is map of sightings in the United States created by researcher Rob Nelson and Roland Kays a zoologist at North Carolina State University. You can help them keep track of white squirrel populations by logging your sightings!
Want to learn more about white squirrels? Check out this video from the awesome biologists at Untamed Science and their white squirrel sighting adventure across the Eastern United States!
Today's contribution to Squirrel Gazer was a collaborative effort between by Cynthia Frausto and Amanda Robin
Yesterday, I woke up to a panicked phone call from my friend Lisette. A young squirrel had fallen from a tree in her yard and was yelping loudly and appeared unable to move. She wanted to know how she could help the little guy. Here is a video she took of the squirrel she found who we named Petrie.
Finding hurt squirrels 🤕🐿, especially babies, is pretty common this time of year. What should you do if you come across as squirrel who appears to be in need of some emergency assistance 🚑?
Interfering with wildlife is risky business and there are a lot of different opinions about what should be done. I am not an expert in this area nor am I a wildlife rehabilitator, but my work with wild squirrels has led me to often get contacted by caring individuals who come across squirrels in need of help. I have tried my best to consolidate some information to help clarify steps that can be taken to care for injured wild squirrels but, this is by no means the right advice for every situation.
First, Make Sure the Squirrel Really Needs Your Help.
This may sound obvious, but we humans have a tendency to jump into action for an animal sometimes a little too quickly. Just like human children, young animals sometime stumble around while exploring the world.
To asses if a wild animal is in need of human interference the Human Society recommends you check for the following signs:
There are also some SQUIRREL SPECIFIC SIGNS to look out for.
If the answer to any one of these questions is yes than the squirrel 🐿could probably use some human help! In the case of Petrie, several of these signs were evident. Petrie had small amounts of blood around his mouth and what appeared to be a broken or dislocated hip. He also had been crying on the ground for an extended period of time. On top of all of this my friend reported that there was a tree trimming crew 🌲 outside the apartment complex today, so it is very possible this little dude took a very long fall.
What to do if the squirrel you found checks off all the boxes above:
In my experience, government animal control agencies are pretty reluctant to come out to pick up an injured squirrel. If the squirrel you found is in need of medical care your may have to find a near by wildlife rehabilitation center to take it to.
An easy way to find your nearest rehabilitation center is to use the Human Society's directory that is organized by state. You can access this at their website: www.humanesociety.org/resources/how-find-wildlife-rehabilitator. If you are unable to find a suitable location to take your hurt squirrel from the website above, a quick google search for "wildlife rehabilitation" with your area code included will usually turn up some helpful results.
In the case of Petrie, a quick search for rehabs in Santa Ana, California quickly turned up the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center of Orange County. They are an amazing organization that helps thousands of animals every year. Their website listed that they accepted squirrels along with specific hours of animal intake. Lisette was able to safety transport little Petrie over to the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center of Orange County were they promptly accepted him and began to provide medical care.
Along with finding Petry, Lisette found a second baby squirrel in her yard who she named Ducky. Ducky did not appear to have any obvious bone injuries and was not bleeding or crying. As Lisette approached Ducky he began to move on his own.
If you come across a baby squirrel like Ducky who does not appear to need immediate medical care the best option is leave the squirrel where you found it. Keep people and pets away from the area for a day and give the mother squirrel a chance to come back and relocate her baby. 🐿💕👼 If it is very cold outside it may be a good idea to place the baby on a blanket.
If by the end of the day the mother has not come back it may be time to bring the baby squirrel to a rehabilitation center as it will likely not survive the night outside on the ground alone.