Western Kentucky University's white Eastern Gray Squirrels stand out, says Professor Stokes: "They're not as well camouflaged, so they are more prone to predator attacks."
First it was black Eastern Gray Squirrels. Now reader Michelle of When Cats Attack offers fuel for our squirrel-blogging habit by calling attention to her alma mater's unusual population of white Eastern Grays. Our first thought was "albino," but checking out the photo at the school's website, we noticed the eyes were a normal black hue, not the pink characteristic of albinism. The WKU Herald (slow to download, and then you have to register) explains:
Biology professor Michael Stokes said the white squirrel phenomenon is not due to environmental factors, but rather a rare recessive gene . . . the white hue is due to a lack of melanin, a pigment that adds color to an animal's fur.
Contrary to what some believe, these white squirrels are not albino. Stokes said that, although these squirrels don't have melanin to color their fur, they still have pigmented eyes. True albino squirrels would have red eyes . . . According to biology professor Albert Meier, the odds of an albino squirrel's being born in a litter are close to one in 100,000.
Stokes predicted that the white squirrels have been roaming the hilly terrain of Western for about 30 years. "We're not sure how they got here, but I'll tell you how it usually happens . . . especially around a college campus or parks, somebody brought them in because they thought it would be neat to have white squirrels around." Stokes has seen white squirrels all over Bowling Green, from the 31-W Bypass to Cabell Drive.
So the ivory tower isn't just for hothouse liberals anymore.
The White Squirrel Shoppe in Brevard, NC, has candles, mugs and other "giftes" themed on the local celebrity fauna
Update: White squirrels are coming out of the woodwork. Reader Don, "a retired Ph.D geneticist with non-pink eyes" informs us the creatures are common in his town of Hendersonville and nearby Brevard, NC. A quick Googling takes us to Brevard College's White Squirrel Research Institute. According to the Institute, the ancestors of today's NC population may have originated variously in China or Hawaii and made their way to NC via Florida in the 1940's.
Oh, and speaking of fur-bearing-mammal blogging, be sure to check out this week's Carnival of the Cats at Father of All Carnivals of the Cats, Laurence Simon's place.
Update II: Pat, Randy and Emily from Upstate New York sent us this photo of what appears to be a ring-tailed Eastern Gray Squirrel at their birdfeeder. Does anyone out there know anything about such a creature?