Doug and Christine Chadwick had an unexpected visitor at their home on Christmas morning.
The Chadwicks were treated to a rare sighting: an albino gray squirrel.
“It showed up at our bird feeder on Christmas morning. Quite a surprise and a really nice gift from Mother Nature,” the Chadwicks said in an email.
It has been a gift that keeps on giving.
“It is really enjoyable watching it, as it has been coming every day since Christmas along with about 10 other squirrels,” they said.
While many Maine wildlife sightings involving white or mostly white animals and birds are a treat, the squirrel appears to be special.
“Albinism and leucism are inherited conditions that are caused by lack or reduction of pigments in the skin, fur, feathers or scales [yes, birds and reptiles can be white, too!],” said Shevenell Webb, furbearer biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
“Albino animals tend to be completely white, whereas leucism can result in patchy white areas, pale colors, or the entire body being white,” Webb said. “These conditions are difficult to tell apart, especially at a distance.”
We recently published a photo of a piebald deer, one that was mostly white with some subtle patches of tan hair. And we also showed you Larry Gooding’s video of a cow moose with a large patch of white fur along its back.
But the squirrel appears to be a true albino animal.
“It actually is a full albino because it does have pink eyes, even though they don’t show up in the photos,” the Chadwicks said. “This is the first one we have ever seen.”
Webb said the eyes are the detail that makes the albino identification more definitive.
“Pink or pale eyes are a red flag for albino, whereas dark eye color points to leucism,” Webb said.
Being an albino definitely has short-term advantages for the squirrel, but also poses some dangers.
“Camouflage is pretty good in the snow and we are hoping it survives after the snow leaves because we have several hawks and eagles in the area,” the Chadwicks said.
Webb agreed that the lack of pigmentation likely could be problematic for the squirrel next spring.
“Most animals have fur or feathers that provide camouflage with their environment. The white squirrel may match his snowy background now, but being white is a big disadvantage to hide from predators during other times of year,” Webb said.
We greatly appreciate Doug and Christine Chadwick sending along the photos of the albino squirrel and many thanks to Shevenell Webb for continuing to enlighten us about Maine wildlife!
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