A headline Friday in the Swedish edition of The Local, an English-language European news site, announced the unusual news: “Rare white squirrel photographed in Sweden.”
The article did not offer any insight into how rare this sort of sighting is in Sweden. But I thought: Big deal. That’s because I have seen two white squirrels in D.C. in recent weeks. One was downtown, scurrying around a park across the street from The Washington Post’s offices. Another was about six miles north, scaling a telephone pole a couple blocks from my house.
But actually, though it’s hardly headline-worthy, white squirrels are also fairly rare in the United States, at least according to a tally of sightings reported to the “White and Albino Squirrel Research Initiative,” a project run by University of Hawaii ecologist Rob Nelson. His mapping indicates U.S. white squirrels range across the eastern half of the country, which is probably why they’re almost always of the eastern gray species. He also notes that Washington tends to be something of a white squirrel hotspot.
My colleague John Kelly, who dedicates a week of every year to writing exclusively about squirrels, has referred to these snowy versions as “our very own mystical sign.” And they come in two flavors. Some, such as the red-eyed one near my home, are albinos. Others, like my dark-eyed city squirrel, are known as white morphs, and they make up the majority of reports Nelson has collected.
Other places, including Olney, Ill. and Brevard, N.C., are such big white squirrel hangouts that the animals are unofficial town mascots, Kelly wrote in 2012. Brevard even has a white squirrel festival each May.
Why do white squirrels matter? I’m not sure. One Brevard official told the Post that they’re “something different, and believe it or not, the white version can look somewhat more adorable than the gray or black ones.” Nelson, for his part, says he wants to find out how rare the white morph gene is. (Seen a white squirrel? Report it here.) For me, this is mainly an excuse to share my white squirrel photos.
The one at the top is the albino. Here’s the more urban one. Adorable, right?
In other animal news this week:
- A coyote kept stealing newspapers, so the delivery man came up with a sweet solution
- The feds say the eastern cougar is officially extinct. But some people still think it’s out there.
- Walruses hold their babies with their flippers, and they do it on their left side — just like us
- A proposed law in Idaho would allow drivers to “shoot a badly injured animal they’ve struck to put it out of its misery.”
Thanks, as always, for reading.