Okay, Are White Squirrels Actually Rare in the State of Michigan?
Recently, there have been a number of posts specifically on Michigan and Kalamazoo's Reddit pages about white squirrel sightings. Which leads to the question: How rare are white squirrels in Michigan?
First, let's go over the difference between a white squirrel and an albino squirrel.
It would be very easy to assume that an animal that typically isn't white may be albino just because of the pigment of their fur, but it's not always the case. Albino squirrels, or any albino human/animal, have white skin or fur with no dark pigment anywhere and a very distinct pink or blue iris with a dark red pupil, according to Merriam-Webster. On the other hand, there's leucism which is defined as,
an abnormal condition of reduced pigmentation affecting various animals (such as birds, mammals, and reptiles) that is marked by overall pale color or patches of reduced coloring and is caused by a genetic mutation which inhibits melanin and other pigments from being deposited in feathers, hair, or skin.
In either case, spotting a white squirrel in the wild is rare enough that it still feels like a special occasion. And it seems to be happening more often in SW Michigan.
Just a few days ago, a photo of one of these squirrels, spotted in Vicksburg, was shared by u/aclockworkchris:
Five days ago, an Imgur user by the name of citizenerased8110, who claims to be in the SW Michigan area, shared this photo from their backyard:
Six days ago, u/MetalSlayerMike shared this photo of a mostly white squirrel that apparently used to frequent his backyard:
And seven days ago, u/jamalstevens happened to spot a relatively "normal" looking squirrel with a very white tail:
That's four unusual sightings in a matter of a week. So, are they actually rare in the state of Michigan? The answer is mostly, yes.
A website called Untamed Science has been working to track sightings of these white squirrels across the United States. In Michigan specifically, most of the sightings seem to be in East Michigan around the Detroit area. But, this is based on reported sightings so the accuracy could be a bit off. See the full map, find more information on white squirrels or report your own sighting here.
On The Other Hand
Spotting black squirrels in your neighborhood? While they're thought to be a separate invasive species, it turns out that they're part of the Eastern Gray Squirrel family but have their own genetic mutation, much like the white squirrels. To be clear, the Eastern Gray Squirrel is still considered an incredibly invasive species.
A 2020 article from Michigan State University breaks down, in detail, how a missing gene causes the dark pigmentation in these Eastern Gray Squirrels and how it may be an evolutionary process. Read more here.
Regardless of whether these squirrels are white, black, red, or gray...they are just so darn cute, aren't they? And, it may surprise you that they're legal to own (as long as they're raised in captivity and not caught in the wild).
In fact, there's a whole list of animals that are surprisingly legal to own in the state of Michigan. Take a look: