Living the Wild Life
In Search of White Squirrels
By Doreen S Damm
We all know about squirrels. The cute little brownish gray mammals with the bushy tails. They play chicken, darting out in front of our cars, raiding our bird feeders and digging holes in our gardens. Some say they are no better than rats and others adore them both for their intelligence and agility.
As a wildlife gardener, I have a love-hate relationship with these persistent critters. As soon as the bird feed hits the feeding stations, down the trees they run. They would eat all the food before the birds made their rounds. So, I put out more feeding stations and all that got me was more squirrels. Not the most perfect plan.
While grilling late one night, we found out we had flying squirrels too. My husband texted me “come outside – there’s a rat on the feeder”. I grabbed the flashlight and went out back, to our delight, it was not a rat. We spent the greater portion of that year sitting in the garden at night watching our flying squirrels. Their white bellies would glow in the spotlight as they flew in.
On our October vacation to North Carolina we appropriately stayed near Transylvania County – The Land of 250 Waterfalls. We decided to visit as many waterfalls on the last day as we could which took some very good planning. I was mapping out our excursion from the local visitors guide and ran across an article about White Squirrels. Well, you know what came next. “Honey!! They have white squirrels, I have to photograph them”. So we made a trip to the college campus in Brevard County, known for their white squirrel population. It was a rainy, cold day and I was very sure the squirrels would not be out and about, white or gray. We circled the campus three times, passing the security guard once. And just as we were about to give up “White Squirrel!” my husband shouted. I almost jumped out of the car before he had time to stop.
I know it is the novelty of the White Squirrel that makes them so adorable. They still do all the things gray squirrels do, but they really are a beautiful sight. We saw several that day, burying walnuts, hanging upside down on a tree trunk and just foraging in the still green grass, what a contrast.
The story of how they got there is a cute tale. A traveling carnival had white squirrels and while in Florida they had an accident and the white squirrels were freed and moved into a pecan farm. A dream come true for white squirrels, but a nightmare for the pecan farmer. He asked a friend to help him catch them and when he did, two of they were kept as pets and moved to North Carolina. When one of them got loose, it was only fitting to let the other go. It was not long before they breed and now Brevard is very proud of their white squirrel population.
The white squirrels are not albino, but a genetic mutation of the eastern gray squirrel. You don’t have to travel to North Carolina, they can be found in the Ochlockonee River State Park near Sopchoppy. Florida is home to three species of squirrels, the eastern gray squirrel, the fox squirrel, and the southern flying squirrel. The most common in urban areas is the eastern gray squirrel. They are active during the day and often seen feeding on the ground. Read more about Florida squirrels at: http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/mammals/land/squirrels/
Doreen S. Damm
Nature Photographer &