Squirrels of unusual color

A ring-tailed, eastern gray squirrel

A ring-tailed, eastern gray squirrel


All the squirrels that I am featuring today are Eastern Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis).  Although my focus is going to be on unusually colored squirrels, lets start by taking a look at some normally colored ones. I believe that these squirrels look gray because their fur includes a random mixture of black and white hairs. There are brown hairs, too, but the amount of brown varies greatly among individuals. Nonetheless you can count on the underside of a gray squirrel being white.

Muddy nose

An eastern gray squirrel with a muddy nose. You can make out the distinct black and white hairs, though.

The squirrel below is also a normally colored eastern gray squirrel, but it has a lot more brown hairs in its coat.

Squirrel wishing he could get to the bird feeder

“If only I could get past that darn baffle to the bird feeder.”

Although the ring-tailed squirrel shown in the topmost photo may look like the illicit love child of a raccoon and a squirrel, it is an eastern gray squirrel. Apparently the black and white hairs in its tail aren’t mixed together in the random fashion that is typical of gray squirrels; instead it looks like the white hairs are lined up with other white hairs and the black hairs are lined up with other black hairs, hence the rings. This little guy was a regular visitor to my bird feeder for a while. Interestingly the ring-tailed effect depended on the point of view. When seen from one angle the rings appeared distinctly, but when seen from other angles they seemed to fade away. I can only guess that the rings were part of this squirrel’s genetic make-up. Here’s another look at this odd coloration.

A ring-tailed, eastern gray squirrel

My ring-tailed visitor

Some gray squirrels lack the white hairs that make the gray squirrel look gray. These are melanistic squirrels and they come in two varieties: pure black vs. black and brown. The pure black squirrels only occur when there is a mutation present in two genes, so it would seem to be a recessive trait. The black-brown varieties have the same mutation, but it’s only present on a single gene. The black coloration appears to offer these squirrels a survival advantage for in cold climates. According to the University of Michigan, black squirrels lose 18% less of their body heat when temperature fall below -10 degrees centigrade.

Although I never see black squirrels where I live in Central Ohio, these squirrels are plentiful around Kent State University (located near Akron, Ohio). According to KentOhio.net, with the permission of American and Canadian Customs, individuals at Kent State University imported a number of black squirrels from Canada in the early 1960s. Today these black squirrels are the dominant squirrels in Kent, and their population has spread to the greater northeastern region of Ohio. The following photos of black squirrels were taken at Kent State University.

Black eastern gray squirrel

A Black eastern gray squirrel

Black eastern gray squirrels

Black and brown eastern gray squirrels

The people of Kent State University love their distinctive, black squirrels. The campus has celebrated them by erecting a statue in their honor.

Black squirrel statue

Black squirrel statue at Kent State University

And that brings up to our last color variant: white eastern gray squirrels. Although people often assume that any white squirrel is an albino, most of these white squirrels lack the pink eyes essential to albinism. These dark-eyed, white squirrels are actually leucistic. Note the dark eyes in the squirrel below.

White, eastern gray squirrel

Dark-eyed white squirrel

The following squirrel has pink eyes, so it is an albino. It’s a bit hard to see against the snow; click on the photo if you’d like to see a close-up of the squirrel.

Albino eastern gray squirrel in the snow

Click on the photo to see a close-up of the albino.

Although the white coloration camouflages the squirrel during the winter, the same white makes the squirrel stick out like a sore thumb once the snow melts. I was standing on a hill when I spotted the following white squirrel in the valley below.

Sticking out like a sore thumb

Not camouflaged now

Naturalists believe that white squirrels are more prevalent near urban areas since fewer predators mean that their easy visibility doesn’t endanger them as it would in a wilder area. In Central Ohio I have seen them at two Columbus Metro Parks (Inniswood and Chestnut Ridge). I’ve also seen them in Delaware County at Hogback Ridge Preservation Park.

Here’s a nice contrast between two differently colored, eastern gray squirrels. Below the photo is a short video of this same white squirrel scavenging for food hidden in the mulch.

A normal eastern gray squirrel and a white one

A normally-colored eastern gray squirrel and a white one. The white squirrel is featured in the short video below

Further reading

© Deborah Platt, Robert Platt and TrekOhio.com 2012
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7 Responses to Squirrels of unusual color

  1. marviiilous says:

    Awesome! I don’t know there are black and white squirrels. This post made my day :) And oh yeaah they try the best they can to get to bird feeders.

    • Deb Platt says:

      Marviiilous, while I was researching this post I learned more about the squirrel species that we have in Ohio. And I think I discovered what kind of squirrel Rusty is. I believe that he is a fox squirrel. They have reddish-orange bellies and tails.

      • marviiilous says:

        Rusty the fox squirrel! It sounds so cool! :)

        That’s the (only) species I’ve seen in Fort Smith, Ar so far. I haven’t seen other than that yet. Thanks for finding Rusty’s species. you rock!

  2. FeyGirl says:

    I’ve seen the black squirrels… Having lived in Arlington, VA for a stint, that’s all we had, actually! But WHITE! I’ve never seen, or even heard of! Fascinating, and just lovely!!

    • Deb Platt says:

      I was so thrilled the first time that I saw a white squirrel. I’ve since seen a number of them, so it may not be as thrilling now, but it’s still fun. :)

  3. roberta4949 says:

    we have all colors here, white black the greys, by the way several years ago I was driving past the neighborhood stable and a black and white squirrels zipped in front of my truck and ran up into the yard across the street (the white following the black every where he went) for some reason the black one decided he wanted to get to the other side of the street where he just came from right in front of me, this is like a second or two timing here, and the white lagging right behind, the black squirrel made it the white did not I ran over him/her.I could see in my rearview, I felt really bad I tried to stop but to no avail it ran up under my wheel. poor squirrel. I think they are adorable and wish I could pet one they look really soft.
    rose

    • Deb Platt says:

      It’s too bad about the white squirrel, but you shouldn’t blame yourselves.

      I wouldn’t try to pet a wild squirrel, but I’ve been in parks where they are accustomed to being fed by people and will take treats from your hand.

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