Ghostly White Squirrels Haunt a Town In North Carolina

The town of Brevard, North Carolina, has a small liberal arts college and a Halloween parade befitting the county seat of Transylvania County. It also has a thriving population of white squirrels. About a third of the population of eastern grey squirrels in Brevard have white fur (leucism) and dark eyes. Eastern gray squirrels are usually gray. The difference between leucism and albinism is that while animals with albinism are lacking the melanin — the chemical responsible for making pigment in skin hair, feathers and eyes — leucitic animals have a partial, but not total, loss of pigment. That means they have normal colored eyes, and sometimes patches of darker fur or feathers. Leucism is an inherited trait, so parents can pass it along to their children. Where the leucitic squirrels of Brevard came from is a bit of a mystery, but the official story is that they escaped from a carnival truck that traveled to Brevard from Florida in 1949. Brevard became so proud of its white squirrel population that in 1986, the city council passed an ordinance establishing a sanctuary for all squirrels, but especially the white ones, making it illegal to "hunt, kill, trap, or otherwise take any protected squirrels within the city." Brevard even celebrates its leucitic squirrel population with an annual White Squirrel Festival.