Camouflage is a crucial tool used for survival for species that are hunted by predators, like most squirrels. But these city-dwelling squirrels on the lawn of Mass. General Hospital in Boston generally live without fear of the predators they would normally face in the wild — predators that would require them to blend in with their surroundings to evade predators.
The white hue of these squirrels is a result of a genetic mutation that causes a lack of pigment known as Leucism. When two Gray Squirrels with the recessive gene mate, the offspring will appear white. These rare white squirrels are not albino — even though their fur is completely white — since they have pigment in their black eyes. If they were truly albino, they would be completely white and pink.
According to Tom French, researcher for the Mass Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, white versions of the common Gray Squirrel is more prevalent in cities where the squirrels do not need to depend upon camouflage for survival, since their are less predators in city parks. Having one color versus another in an urban environment like the lawn of Mass General Hospital, according to French, “doesn’t really matter.”
Although rare, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen something like this…
An extremely rare white squirrel was spotted foraging in the forest by YouTuber Nick Carnahan. The small squirrel was first spotted while he was having lunch near Red Pine Lake on the east side of Salt Lake Valley, Utah.
“I watched him for about an hour preparing for winter, digging holes and filling them with pine cones, ” says Carnahan. “I would say he got pretty comfortable around me, he started showing off big time.”
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources mammal conservation coordinator Kimberly Hersey said the animal appears to be an American Red Squirrel, also known as the pine or spruce squirrel. Red squirrel?! This squirrel is quite common in Utah, however it is almost always reddish or gray.
Why does this supposedly Red Squirrel appear mostly white? The squirrel exhibits partial traits of Albinism or leucism, which causes a lack of pigmentation. However, the squirrel is not completely albino, since it has black eyes and some coloring on its fur.
“I’d say it’s extremely rare,” said wildlife biologist George Oliver “I’ve never seen a squirrel like this in Utah nor have I heard even a mention of one. … This is the first one I’ve ever heard of and I’ve been working for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources for 20 years.” [H/t]
Roaring Earth fan Luis Maestre was able to take a photo of a rare white squirrel recently spotted in his neighborhood in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Luis sent us the picture after seeing this story about a white squirrel that captured the attention of the internet.
Luis Maestre told us that if “it hadn’t been for my dog trying to eat it I would have gotten better photos.” He said he has seen it once more since this sighting.
The squirrel exhibits traits of albinism or leucism, which causes a lack of pigmentation, giving the squirrel a snowy-white appearance.
We were recently sent the photo above by Roaring Earth fan Peter Rizaniw.
White squirrels are very rare, so when people see them, they’re more likely to snap a photo. Here are some more white squirrels caught on camera: