In the Yard

Rhonda Hayes is a garden writer, photographer and blogger. She also volunteers as a Hennepin County Master Gardener. Rhonda chronicles her gardening adventures and advice at her award-winning blog, The Garden Buzz. She is a frequent contributor to Northern Gardener magazine and the Star Tribune Home + Garden section. At Your Voices, she writes about life around the city lakes, occasionally veering off the garden path with essays on the silly and serious issues of the day.

Where Are the White Squirrels?

Posted by: Rhonda Hayes Updated: September 27, 2013 - 10:31 AM

Where did the white squirrels go? Everyday last fall I told myself that soon I'd grab my camera and visit the little triangle in the park where they busied themselves with acorns everyday, sit real still and finally get a decent photo of the ghostly rodents. But I put it off even though I passed them everyday on my way back from walking. And when the snow fell I shrugged and said there's always next year.

Now there's no sign of the white squirrels.

Too bad because I'd done a little research. It seems among them there are albino squirrels and leucistic squirrels. From what I could fathom albino squirrels have a genetic mutation that prevents the production of melanin, and leucistic squirrels have a genetic mutation that prevents the melanin from forming in their fur.

So were the white squirrels of William Berry Park, albino or leucistic? The only way to tell would have been to peer into their beady little eyes, with albinos having characteristic pink eyes while the others have normal squirrel-colored eyes. I never got close enough. Although I've seen a few others around town that were definitely albinos.

Apparently sometimes you get enough cross mating that a number of squirrels will exhibit the unusual coloring, or lack of it. I spotted two white squirrels at a time, maybe not enough to qualify as a colony. They do exist in parts of Minnesota and around the country. As do their counterparts, black squirrels.

So was it the winter that wouldn't leave that did in the white squirrels? It sure seemed to be a year that produced a plethora of white cabbage butterflies. Although the white squirrel's coloring is great camouflage in snow, if albinos, they would have trouble seeing, and apparently they fall more often than more nimble regular squirrels.

It was a long winter into snowy spring that seemed to favor redbud trees (were they ever as purple and pretty?), made many tomatoes mealy and sprouted weeds not seen in years. And I've yet to see a single raccoon this year, hmmm.

 What about it, any white squirrels in your neighborhood lately?


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