Our story begins, as so many great stories do, in a North Florida pecan orchard.
It was the 40s. And grown men, presumably Depression survivors and members of the Greatest Generation, were chasing a pair of white squirrels recently escaped from a crashed carnival caravan.
A series of events led them to a small town in North Carolina, hosting an annual White Squirrel Festival. Each February, they would try to replace Punxsutawney Phil, at first with Pisgah Pete and then his niece, Pisgah Penny.
According to Barbara Mull Lang – through the Transylvania Times of Brevard NC and reprinted by the White Squirrel Institute, one of those men was the ironically named, considering the circumstances, W.W. Black. The other man? Uncle Harry.
When Harry and Aunt Mary came north that Christmas to Brevard, just outside of Asheville, they brought the unique squirrels with them. Ms. Lang, frankly a rather stilted storyteller if we’re being 100% honest, named the pair Snowflake and Snowball. However, Snowball was swiftly rechristened Frisky based on a swishy tail.
It was unclear from Lang’s writing if it was Snowball or Frisky who got loose in the house and created a “Christmas Vacation” style fracas. Specifically, knocking ornaments off the tree and biting the heck out of Uncle Harry’s finger. However, the smart money is on Frisky.
Despite Harry’s wound they didn’t eat the squirrels.
Instead, Lang’s father built a large cage in the backyard and she cared for the two Eastern Grey Squirrels who had white fur thanks to a mutated gene with the idea she might breed them, presumably with each other. However, the entire time they were in the cage, no white version of the Eastern Grey Squirrel babies appeared.
Lang’s family moved and the care of the Snowball and Frisky fell to her grandfather who, again quite frankly, failed abysmally.
First, one of the squirrels escaped. Again, if we’re placing bets it was Frisky. The other squirrel, presumably Snowball, looked so sad and alone that the grandad opened the cage and let Snowball race out into the cold, dangerous world.
If you hadn’t read about the festival and the exploits of Pisgah Pete, you might think the story would end there.
They were a pair of squirrels in white coats in a big, strange world full of predators.
Their reduction of pigments makes them easy targets for hawks, owls, foxes, bobcats or hungry mountain folk who have a hankering for squirrel meat.
But, oh no.
Snowball and Frisky got … well, frisky. I assume with other gray squirrels, not with each other. Or maybe Frisky was waiting in the nearby woods for Snowball to Shawshank her way outta there and they got together and raised a squirrel family that begat a white squirrel phenomenon.
Reports of white squirrels in the area
However it may have happened, soon people started reporting rare white squirrel sightings. Brevard’s white squirrels – who each had a gray patch on their head and a dorsal stripe – started becoming famous.
Over the years it was determined that the Brevard White Squirrel was a white version of the Eastern Grey Squirrel with a genetic anomaly or a genetic mutation.
These types of white squirrels have thrived over the year and the population of white squirrels has expanded 50 miles out from Brevard. But the best places to see them remain in town.
Brevard, North Carolina is now known as the home of the white squirrel and tries to capitalize at every opportunity.
Are the Brevard squirrels albino?
No. The dark stripe and black eyes are proof that Brevard’s white squirrels are not albino animals. They’re just genetically different than other Eastern Grey Squirrels.
They’re known as leucistic, which means they have reduced pigmentation but they don’t lack pigmentation altogether.
What is the difference between a white squirrel and an albino squirrel?
A true albino has a lack of pigment due to a deficiency in the production of melanin.
The best way to tell an albino squirrel from a white squirrel is in the eye color.
Albinos will have red eyes or pink eyes while white squirrels will have dark eyes.
Can a grey squirrel breed with a white squirrel?
Yes. They’re the same species. And it doesn’t take two white squirrels to produce white squirrel babies.
A litter can have both grey-colored squirrels and white-colored squirrels, but the individual squirrels won’t be mixed color. They will either be all grey or all white, except for the dorsal stripe and head marking.
How rare is an albino squirrel?
A true albino squirrel is significantly more rare (I know it’s correct to say rarer, but it feels so weird) than the white squirrel, according to squirrelgazer.com, which reports that 20 to 30% of the white squirrels in North America are albino.
There are a handful of other communities across the country that has a white squirrel population.
What does it mean if you see an albino squirrel?
Well, it could mean you’re in Brevard, North Carolina. But if you’re not in one of the few communities with a white squirrel population, it is something of a rare sighting.
Also, if you’re the type of person who believes in signs, seeing a white squirrel can be a very positive omen. A sighting symbolizes good luck, change and financial abundance.
However, I feel compelled to say that those signs and omens must be null and void if you live near a population of white squirrels or everybody in town would be hunting it and they wouldn’t need to try and rename Groundhog Day after a white squirrel.
They also had old Pete trying to pick Super Bowl winners, so I don’t know just how mystical these descendants of Snowflake and Frisky really are.
Where are albino squirrels found?
Albino squirrels? Could be anywhere. Like a blue lobster, it’s just the luck of the genetic draw.
If you’re talking white squirrels, a few places. There are a couple of types of white squirrels that live in East Asia and the Philippines, but these are not genetic anomalies, their species is just white.
If you mean Brevard’s white squirrels, there are some good places around town. The best way is on the campus of Brevard College.
Franklin Park is also popular with white squirrel sightings. However, while sightings are likely in these places, you still need a little good luck. These remain wild animals and can be unpredictable.
The Brevard city website recommends planning a stay of multiple days, but I suspect that’s a little hotel-motel tax ploy.
Are there any other odd color squirrels?
Yes. Interestingly there are black morphs of the eastern gray squirrels. These black squirrels live in the region of the Great Lakes Basin.
There are also black versions of fox squirrels living in the Southeastern U.S.
Have you spotted a white squirrel? Let us know in the comments!