If you came across this article, you might have seen a white squirrel. Albino squirrels are very strange-looking mammals and pretty rare to see. The white-colored fur makes them even more adorable and exciting.
The vast majority of white squirrels belong to the species of Eastern gray squirrels. Their coloring can be determined by two main factors- albinism and the white morph gene. Therefore, below, we will explore rare and beautiful white squirrels and why they have a white color.
Why Do Squirrels Have White Color?
Squirrels are beautiful creatures, and their fur color can come in many different variations. Generally, their fur color is gray or brown. However, some colors are rarer than others. For example, black squirrels and white squirrels are pretty rare. The colors of the fur, be it red, brown, gray, or black, are determined by the pigment melanin underneath the skin.
The melanin pigment comes in two different varieties, including pheomelanin, which makes the fur red or yellow, and eumelanin, which gives the fur brown or black colors. In different species, the pigment arrangements can vary, and therefore, it can affect the color.
The genes of specific species are responsible for certain combinations of melanin pigments. And it also determines where the specific pigments can be placed on the body. For example, squirrels typically have a white abdomen. A gene mutation does not cause this. It is because the squirrels have regulatory genes, which are responsible for such placements of color pigments. The white abdomen is one of the adaptations of squirrels, making them less visible from the sky.
Black squirrels, unlike white ones, have too much melanin all over the body. This particular one is typically found in areas of high altitude with less sunlight. Additionally, the black color helps them with thermoregulation in colder weather. So, white color or black color is generally determined by the local conditions and slowly, over time, has been modified and adjusted.
Why Are some Squirrels White
The white coats are brought on by a few different kinds of genetic abnormalities. As mentioned above, the light color can either be the result of albinism or the white morph gene.
The first abnormality is albinism, which is brought on by a pigmentation gene mutation. In such cases, the eyes of albinos are crimson. In this case, the genetic mutation takes place, which causes the lack of melanin.
So, to explain, when there is albinism, the cells responsible for pigment production are absent; therefore, only white fur appears, the skin is white, and even the eyes are light pink or blue colored.
True albino white squirrels are very rare. This can be caused by the fact that they have poor eyesight because of the lack of eye pigment, which results in their vulnerability. They can easily become victims of predators or fall from higher locations.
White Morph Gene
The second reason the squirrels may be white is because of the separate gene, a white morph. It is a very uncommon, naturally occurring characteristic of eastern gray squirrels.
For some strange reason, some Eastern gray squirrel species have a gene that will turn their fur white. However, it is pretty rare, so seeing one is quite unusual. The white color also makes them more vulnerable to predators because they are easier to spot.
A fascinating fact about white squirrels is that their number is relatively high in some parts of the USA. This can be caused by the small number of predators in the area. Having a low amount of threats eliminates the negative selection of the white-coloring genes.
So, white squirrels can be the color variation of a specific species. Unlike albinos, those have dark eyes along with white fur. This condition is also called leucistic. It is believed that some white squirrel species have mutant genes. This causes them to lack melanin in the skin and hair but not in the eyes. That is why they have black eyes and white fur, and skin.
Distribution Of White Squirrels
White squirrels are distributed throughout the United States. There is one special place where the population of those mammals is exceptionally high. The city is called the “White Squirrel Capital of the World.” Well, not to bore you, the location is Olney, Illinois.
The white squirrel is found in forests and on the streets of urban areas. Because of how rare they are in other locations, they are protected species, and hitting or catching them is punished with a fine of $500. Another interesting fact is that the white squirrel is a symbol of the Olney Police Department and is even printed on officers’ uniform patches.
Other than this specific location, the white squirrels are also found in various states of North America, including Kenton (Tennessee), Brevard (North Carolina), and Marionville (Missouri). Apart from the United States, they also reside in southern Canada, specifically in Exter (Ontario). The white squirrels are so important to those locations that they even hold festivals for the sake of white squirrels and try to claim the name of “White Squirrel Capital.”
There are several other countries where white squirrels have been observed. However, they are not in large quantities. Therefore, they are not officially the main locations of white squirrels but are still important. Such locations are Bowling Green, Stratford, and Trinity Bellwoods.
A sudden increase in population occasionally occurs in specific areas, and they stay long enough to be referred to as a “colony.” The colony is considered to be a group with at least 20 white squirrels. The individuals that belong to those groups have white-predisposing genes. Also, it is known that there is no group of Eastern gray squirrels that has 100% white members.
Today, in North America, it is believed there are around 9 colonies of albino squirrels. However, as already mentioned above, the absolute number of members is not white. For example, Brevard’s white squirrel population has an average of 1/3 true white squirrels, which is the highest compared to other white squirrel colonies.
Mating & Reproduction Of White Squirrel
Species with variations in coat color do not often mate assortatively or randomly. The hormonal attraction has a considerably bigger effect than coat color. Squirrels breed twice a year, once in the winter and once in the summer.
When a female enters estrus, curious males travel far away and set up camp at her “doorstep.” They typically do it without even seeing the coat color. Most descriptions of “courtship” are violent, with few opportunities for women to express any kind of preference, let alone regarding the color of the coat.
Fortunately for her, throughout each mating season, male squirrels are only “receptive” and sought for that one day. Several males could impregnate her. However, male squirrels do not assist females in taking care of the babies. Because many male squirrels gather around the female, it is difficult to determine which one is the father. Therefore, it is also hard to determine the genetics that caused a specific squirrel’s fur color.
White squirrels can live in abandoned buildings, attics, and trees. However, for reproduction, females built structures called dreys. Dreys are made from dried grass, feathers, moss plants, and thistle downs.
Male and female squirrels may stay in the same drey when the breeding season comes or when it gets extremely cold outside. However, during the pregnancy, the females stay alone in the dorms. In winter, unlike many other mammals, white squirrels do not hibernate.
White Squirrel Importance To Ecosystem
The woodland ecosystems where white squirrels reside are crucial to the environment’s health. Generally, squirrels consume the seeds and, therefore, have an important part in spreading the seeds. They may aid in the spread of truffle fungal spores when they consume truffles.
They have an impact on the ecosystem’s other creatures, both those they prey on and those they are preyed upon. All species of squirrels are frequently seen as a pest because they occasionally construct nests in buildings, harming the woodwork and electrical wires. However, white squirrels are so rare that local communities often protect them.
Diet Of White Squirrels
White squirrels are considered to be “Scatter-hoarder” mammals. In summer, they gather a large amount of food and save it for the winter. Those creatures typically consume buds, flowers, and nuts. It depends on their habitat, but generally, they consume hickory, oaks, walnuts, pecans, truffles, and beech.
Other than that, they also enjoy eating wheat, corn, and other crops. In summer, when the food is in high quantity, those little mammals also consume the insects and tiny creatures.
White squirrels are one of the rarest and most beautiful creatures found on the continent of North America. They are only presented in specific locations where they are highly protected. Either two factors can cause the white coloration of the squirrel’s fur.
In the case of albinism, melanin is absent, and the pigments are not produced. Albino white squirrels have pink or blue eyes. On the other hand, the second cause of white fur is the white morph gene. In this case, the eyes are dark brown or black, and only the fur and skin are white.
Nato is a content writer and researcher with a background in psychology who’s eager to explore the wonders of nature. As a travel enthusiast and animal lover, she hopes to inspire others to discover and cherish the beauty and importance of the natural world.