LIFE'S BETTER IN THE MOUNTAINS

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Ugly Truth about those Squirrels

Brevard, NC is known as the "Home of the White Squirrel." Before this became my own little town, I was amazed at how many things carried "White Squirrel" as part of the name. In the shoppes I saw photographs and drawings of white squirrels along with children's books and cuddly stuffed animals. If there was a way, tasteful or tacky, to market the white squirrel, it was in the shoppes.

Our real estate agent took us on a tour of the college campus and pointed out several white sqirrels playing in the trees. Amazing! Regular readers will know that I am not fond of squirrels of any color, but it really was something to see these white ones running around. We learned that the second largest gathering in the town was the annual "White Squirrel Festival." A town ordinance passed in 1986 declared Brevard to be a sanctuary for all squirrels and "particularly for the Brevard White Squirrel." So the squirrel had been given the name "Brevard White Squirrel." I thought it exciting that the squirrel had mutated right in the town where we planned to live.

Curious person that I am, I did some research on the white squirrel. Much to my chagrin I discovered the white squirrel was actually brought to Brevard in 1949. What a downer! It seems a circus truck in Florida overturned and two captive white squirrels escaped. They took up residence in a yard and the owner caught them and brought them to a friend in Brevard. The friend gave the two white squirrels to his niece, Barbara Mull. In 1951 the niece married and left home. Shortly thereafter one of the squirrels escaped. Barbara's father felt that the only thing to do was to release the remaining squirrel into the wild. Soon, more and more white squirrels were sighted in our fair little town.

Yes, dear reader...the truth of the Brevard White Squirrel is the awful truth of an exotic "pet" released into the wild. Since their release in 1951, the white squirrels have bred with the native Eastern Grey Squirrels to the extent that now more than a fourth of the squirrels within the town limits are white.

The all-white squirrels do not belong to a separate species...they are Eastern Grey Squirrels that happen to be white. The "Brevard" white squirrels have grey markings on the top of their heads. Otherwise they are white with dark beady little black eyes just like every other squirrel.

Most of the white squirrels in our county are found within the town limits of Brevard. We live nine miles up the mountain and we had never seen one in our community although we heard there were a few here. Imagine our surprise when we spotted a white squirrel right in our back yard. He seemed quite unafraid of us as he flitted around the trees. Yes, I will admit that he is cute. He looks rather pink because you can see his skin. But his beady little black eyes indicate that he does indeed have pigment and is not an albino. The dots of grey on his head are a dead giveaway...he is a Brevard White Squirrel.




























So if you happen to visit our fair little mountain town, you will be bombarded with all things white squirrel, including cookies and candy. If you see a squirrel in the town, there is a 25% chance it will be a white one. I love seeing the look on the faces of tourists when they see their first white squirrel. They grab their cameras hoping for a good picture.
----------And I truly wish I could be excited about them. Having learned the true story of their introduction, I can view them only as invasive. OK, they do not appear to have done any harm, and they do draw people to the area. It's just the idea that "wild" pets were released to the outdoors that really bothers me.
----------Perhaps I should actually appreciate the wit and skills of the two white squirrels released in 1951. They left a protected environment and managed to survive and thrive in the wild. (Although it doesn't hurt that so many people put out peanuts and other food hoping to attract them.)

41 comments:

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

The Brevard White Squirrels have a good thing going for them.
I don't mind squirrels unless they destroy my feeders.

robin andrea said...

Interesting story about those squirrels. Makes me wonder where the traveling circus got them. Reminds me of a time when I was camping in Rocky Mountain National Park when I heard a lot of scampering around our campsite early one morning. I peeked out of the tent to see the biggest white squirrel. I had never seen anything like it.

Cedar ... said...

Interesting post! Here in the Adirondacks we also have black squirrels as well as the routine reds and greys. Wonder if the whites will ever spread this far north?

Carol @ TheWritersPorch said...

I think they are adorable! There's a town in West Tennessee that has them too. I think it's Kenton?

Rudee said...

We have all colors of squirrels in the Detroit area, but the black ones seemed to prefer the east side of town when I was young. Now you can see them everywhere. I've never seen a white squirrel. I have seen descendants of Hemingway's six toed cats in Key West though. They're everywhere!

It's an amazing tribute to survival that your white squirrels have thrived. It could be they were wild to begin with and so their release and subsequent survival was just a matter of recall.

Twisted Fencepost said...

I have never seen a white or a black squirrel. I so enjoy the pictures posted on blogs about them.
I know they can be invasive, but I love to watch the little critters going about their day.
Actually, I was watching a young grey squirrel digging for hickory nuts around our tree, just this morning.

Sam said...

The only thing I thought of when I read this post is how berserk my dog would go if she ever saw one of these. Her recall goes out the window around small, furry animals right now.

Allison (Dog Mom) said...

Interesting story!

I'm sure Gus and Waldo would treat them the same as regular old Ohio squirrels: like a too-quick-to-catch dinner!

grammy said...

Do you think they could be albino? My Motherinlaw has a white ground dog living under their back porch in Mo. She called the newspaper and they came out and took a picture and put it in the paper. This has been her claim to fame for years. She is 85 and dosn't seem to remember she has already told the story....MANY times.

Unseen Rajasthan said...

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KGMom said...

From an evolutionary standpoint, the amazing thing is that the mutation is NOT helpful--in fact, it would make the squirrels stand out more--unless they scamper around on snow, which I doubt.

Betsy from Tennessee said...

My My My Carolyn... In all of my life, I have never seen or heard of a WHITE squirrel. I'm like you---I detest squirrels. There are FAR too many of the gray ones around here.

Too bad the story about them being in Brevard wasn't a better one. Sometimes I guess it's best not to even know the truth!!!! ha

Hugs,
Betsy

Jayne said...

Indeed, those white squirrels seem to have found a way to be a bit famous...lol!

The Thundering Herd said...

Just hope they don't ever mate with the flying squirrels found above 4000'. A flying white "rat" would be a scary sight, though the dogs would be very, very intrigued.

Thanks for the history lesson.

GreensboroBirds said...

Those are very cool. The central Wisconsin town where I grew up had only black squirrels. No gray, no white, just black. And only in my town. None of the other towns nearby had black squirrels. Here, I just have *too many* squirrels!

jeannette stgermain said...

Sorry for your disappointment as to its origin! I've never seen a white squirrel - very pretty - thanks for sharing!

Tina said...

A very interesting post. You do have to give it to the first white squirrels who survived in those green green mtns. Can't imagine how they thrive..it's like having a bullseye painted on you..the hawks must love them!

Dog_geek said...

Interesting! I had not heard of these littel guys before. They are kind of cute, but I think I prefer the wild-type!

merrilymarylee said...

In Wilmington there is a squirrel that looks like a skunk--black with a white streak. I'm with you--I don't like any of them!

Have you seen the fox (or is it fox tail?) squirrels in Indiana? Holy cow, they're HUGE! I guess we should count our blessings that ours are at least too small to eat our pets.

KatDoc said...

I wonder how the white squirrels avoid predation? I would think they were show up more and thus be more likely to be eaten by a hawk.

Hey, I'm heading your way tomorrow - I will be at Wildacres Retreat, Little Switzerland (NE of Asheville, near Spruce Pine) for a week-long pottery workshop. Will be looking for your North Carolina mountain birds while I'm there.

~Kathi

KB said...

What a great story. It's amazing that it all started with 2 white squirrels. The interbreeding with the gray squirrels must've been the key step in their survival.

Boy, I can tell that you don't like squirrels, with their "beady" eyes. The only thing that I don't like about them is that they eat baby birds. That's a biggy, I admit.

Very interesting post, and as always, great photos.

Faye Pekas said...

Oh but they are so cute :) I've never seen anything like them. You could probably sell them on eBay and get rich! lol.. kidding.

Barb said...

Hmmm- I'm not sure I like the looks of that ghost squirrel. What do Lucy and Ellie think? Your story about its origins is very interesting, though.

Bird Girl said...

Amazing little home town claim to fame there, Carolyn! You did a nice job with photographing them! It sure beats those exotic snakes that get loose (as in Florida)! They seem to be thriving and not causing any grief - and that is a good thing!

Leedra said...

Well, if everybody else is feeding them maybe they will stay away from the bird feeders.

pat said...

ewww i hate squirrels...a rat is a rat, is a rat...with a bushy tail

Cicero Sings said...

Ah squirrels .. you gotta love them and hate them at the same time! They are So ingenious and tenacious.

S N B said...

Loved reading this entry. We are not fans of squirrels, either, and we also have some white ones in Tallahassee. They are not albino and do not have the dots on their head. We have had one in our yard a couple of times and there are several living at the Museum of Natural History.

Appalachian Lady said...

That's so interesting--never heard of a white squirrel. The story about the circus is cute--can see why the town capitalized on it.Thanks for the photos.

The white squirrel can't be any more invasive than the gray squirrel. Although it's native, it has pushed out the fox squirrel out of its habitat around here. The gray is smaller and faster so it also maybe better to elude the red fox. I did see a red fox with a fox squirrel in its mouth one time.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Sounds like they have created their own little tourist industry for Brevard. Guess there could be much worse things.

I'm wondering the same thing as Katdoc and KG Mom. Studies done on black squirrels show they are more prone to predation that gray or red. You would think the white would be even worse. It must be the handouts from the local residents that keep the population growing.
Marnie

TSannie said...

I do admire the original two's staying power. Wonder if they "found" each other again or both went their separate ways back in '51.
Great photos!

Ruth said...

Our continent is full of introduced species. I see all sorts of ducks and geese in the river which are offspring of escaped domestic stock. I guess if they haven't displaced the native species, they are considered naturalized. They are eyecatching for sure.

Cheryl said...

I totally agree with you........we have mink that run wild here....they were released from a mink farm by animal extremists...and they are now killing many of our native species....sad..

Getting back to squirrels......we have non native greys here (I am not keen on them). The reason I say that is because they have put our native reds on the endangered species list. We only have pockets of reds now in Scotland, the North and the Isle of Wight.
The greys carry a virus that does not affect them, unfortunately it often kills our native reds....

Man causes many problems for wildlife to say the least......

scienceguy288 said...

Very interesting post. One does not think that a small action like releasing a pet can do to a whole ecosystem. Admittedly, it is a rather interesting change. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

George said...

I remember being surprised when I saw my first Brevard white squirrel several years ago. But I didn't know the history behind them. Thanks for a very informative post.

cedrorum said...

The way I look at this is these "white" grey squirrels finally made it back to their native habitat.

laurie said...

i've been to your town! dont' remember the squirrels.

but white squirrels aren't that unusual. we have several in our neighborhood and have for years.

maybe i should start a fesetival!

jayedized said...

How very interesting (beautiful photos!) I had no idea Brevard had that many of these white squirrels. I've seen white squirrels only once (35 yrs ago), small waterfront community, on the sound, very few homes on the particular road the squirrels were seen. They became a "tourist attraction", (a problem!) creating some traffic jams for a many months. I always wondered how the white squirrels came to be. Good to know now!!
Great name for this post, too.
It's hard to imagine that even with the increased awareness of the ugly truth about exotics, exotics still seems widely accepted. It's something I hope that one day will be a thing of the past.

Looking at the squirrels again... that is a sight! lol!

NCmountainwoman said...

Thanks for your comments everyone.

These squirrels actually present no real danger since they are actually the same species as the grey squirrels living around here.

Donna - I agree that in the area the white fur should be a negative. Perhaps their protection by the city helps them.

Greensboro - I remember going to La Crosse and seeing all those black squirrels.

Merrilee - Yes, I have seen the Indiana squirrels. They are huge.

Kathi - Have a great time and enjoy North Carolina.

KB - Yep, those beady little eyes look evil to me.

Cheryl - I saw in interesting documentary about your foreign squirrels. Seems a shame.

Science guy - I suppose it proves the adage about given enough time. One pair over fifty years. I'm just glad they are harmless and do not change our ecosystem.

jan m said...

That's an interesting story about the squirrels. I grew up near a naval base where white deer were prevalent on the grounds, and the legend was that activities on the base had caused a mutation among the deer population. At least you have a factual explanation for your squirrels!

dAwN said...

oh..very interesting story...escapees..Well, They are quite cute..and I am sure entertaining and bring people to your area.