Richard Koralek has been seeing a small critter outside his house since the middle of last winter in a neighborhood on the Belfast waterfront.
Last week, we asked you to help us identify the all-white animal shown in a photo shared with us by Koralek, who named it “Fluffy.”
He theorized that perhaps Fluffy was living in a neighbor’s rock wall, under a nearby house or maybe in the hollow trunk of a tree.
This spring, the creature has been munching on all manner of vegetation, including weeds, grass and dandelions in the Koraleks’ yard.
“He pretty much wiped out my crop of dandelions, for which I’m grateful,” Koralek said.
You all had some definite ideas about what Fluffy is.
Several folks guessed an ermine, or short-tailed weasel. A handful of others leaned toward a slightly larger furbearer: an albino woodchuck.
Among the other guesses were an escaped pet ferret, an albino gray squirrel and a northern bog lemming.
Admittedly, our perceptions are affected by a variety of factors including the resolution of the photo and being able to evaluate the features and size of the animal in the context of the background.
It turns out Fluffy isn’t your garden variety Maine rodent.
As a matter of fact, it’s downright unusual, according to Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Furbearer Biologist Shevenell Webb.
“I can see why this was a head scratcher!” Webb said. “I am leaning towards this animal being a small albino woodchuck/groundhog. We have had albino porcupines and raccoons reported in Maine, [but] I don’t recall any recent observations of albino woodchucks. This is a rare sighting, but has been reported in other states.”
How rare? Albinism, a genetic condition characterized by a lack of pigment, occurs only once in every 10,000 births in mammals, according to a 2019 story on Reconnectwithnature.org.
There certainly was evidence to support the short-tailed weasel theory when it comes to Fluffy. The animal is small, has a somewhat elongated body and sports a weasel-like face.
Ermine also adapt to winter conditions as their brownish fur turns white to help provide some camouflage in the snow. However, Webb said she would have expected that if the animal pictured were a short-tailed weasel, it would likely be exhibiting signs of reestablishing its summer fur color.
One element supporting the woodchuck case is Fluffy’s diet. It appears to be consuming lots of plant matter, which is the woodchuck’s preferred food.
Even so, Webb couldn’t discount the possibility that ermine, which primarily eat small mammals and nesting birds, might sample some greens.
“It’s certainly possible in the spring that they might be eating vegetation that’s available,” she said.
Also, short-tailed weasels are found across the state and have been known to pop up in people’s yards.
But Fluffy appears to be an albino woodchuck.
Many thanks to Richard Kovalek for sharing the shots of Fluffy and to Shevenell Webb for providing the expertise to make the identification!
Of course, I’m always on the lookout for more great outdoors photos and videos.
Do you have a trail camera photo or video to share? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us, “I consent to the BDN using my photo.” In order to prevent neighbors from stopping by to try to tag particularly large bucks, moose or bears, some identities and towns of origin may be omitted. If you are unable to view the photo or video mentioned in this story, go to bangordailynews.com.