Sunday, November 29, 2009

White Squirrel

All summer we have been getting reports of a white squirrel in the park, living somewhere between the Marina and the Earth Discovery Center, but never managed to actually see it. Finally a park visitor, Richard Gentry, managed to snap a photo and kindly offered to share it:The patches of normally colored fur on the belly and dark eyes indicate that this squirrel is probably leucistic rather than albino. Albino animals have reddish eyes, while leucistic animals usually have normally pigmented eyes. This squirrel seems to be surviving well so far, but abnormally colored wild animals are often easier targets for predators due to their lack of camouflage. He or she also appears to be a fox squirrel, the common species found in the park.

The mutations that cause albinism, leucism, and other similar conditions can occur in humans, birds, fish, reptiles, insects...pretty much any creature that possesses color pigments. Many of our domestic animals, such as rabbits, chickens, and laboratory rats and mice, have been deliberately bred to produce white animals.

Several years ago I raised a litter of orphaned opossums with one leucistic baby, who stayed with me as an educational opossum:

For some animals, like polar bears, snowy owls, and mountain goats, having white fur or feathers is a survival advantage, not a liability, allowing them to adapt and survive in cold and snowy climates. A few, such as the Arctic fox and snowshoe hare, can even shed their fur and change from brown to white as the seasons change!

Check out this website if you'd like to see more photos of these fascinating "Ghosts of Nature"