White Squirrels: Truth or Tale?

48 Comments

white squirrels

It may sound like the start of a science fiction novel, but white squirrels are no myth. Though colonies of populations of white squirrels are somewhat rare, North Carolina is host to two such locations—the most notable being Brevard. Only about a dozen other cities in the United States can claim being home to white squirrel colonies. “Most people that come here think it’s a joke and that we don’t really have white squirrels,” says Madrid Zimmerman, executive director of Heart of Brevard. “We have to convince them that we didn’t just make it up.”

So how did the white squirrels of Brevard come to be? Well, that story is a little more fantastical. The story says they arrived by way of a carnival accident. According to Barbara Mull Lang, two white squirrels were caught by a Mr. Black of Madison, Fla. in 1949 when a carnival truck carrying these unique creatures overturned near his home. Black then passed the squirrels along to H.H. Mull, Lang’s uncle, who later gave the squirrels to her. She attempted to breed them, but wasn’t successful. After she left home in 1951, one of the squirrels escaped, and so the other was let go to join its mate. Once in the wild, the squirrels began breeding, and soon there was a rapidly growing population in Transylvania County.

Brevard’s white squirrels all have similar markings—a white body with a pigmented head patch, shoulder saddle and dorsal stripe, and dark eyes. Though a breed of white squirrel does exist, the white squirrels in Brevard are thought to be a color variation of the Eastern Gray Squirrel. “They are simply another coat color variant in a species that already has quite a bit of variation,” says Bob Glesener, research director of the White Squirrel Research Institute. “As evidence that Brevard’s white squirrels are simply a color variant of the Eastern Gray Squirrel, I like to point out that when a white squirrel is foraging on the ground and is threatened by a predator or human, it darts to the nearest tree trunk and does a ‘spread eagle.’ This is appropriate for a squirrel with a dark coat color, but a white squirrel sticks out like a ‘sore squirrel’ against the dark tree bark.”

And these white squirrels shouldn’t be confused with albino squirrels. An albino squirrel will have no pigmentation at all, and will have pink or blue eyes. Because these squirrels are such an oddity, they attract a considerable tourist base to the area. People from all over the country come to Brevard to see the natural beauty of the area and with hopes of spotting one of the elusive critters. In fact, Brevard takes such pride in its white squirrel population that a protective ordinance was approved in 1986, which makes it “unlawful for any person to hunt, kill, trap or otherwise take any protected squirrels within the city.” “The ordinance wasn’t put in place because there was a problem; it was more to recognize that they are a special species we have living here,” Zimmerman says. Each year, Brevard hosts the Annual White Squirrel Festival during Memorial Day weekend. The festival is complete with free live music, the Squirrel Box Derby, the White Squirrel 5K and 10K race, guided tours, exhibits and squirrel feeder and photo contests.

To ensure the population continues to grow, the White Squirrel Research Institute conducts an annual white squirrel count. Originally, the project started as a Brevard College student project, but was continued by mentor Glesener, the research institute’s director, and the help of volunteers. Each year, the original city limits are divided into 35 sections approximately 20–30 acres large and all squirrels are counted. “We conduct the count to see how well they are thriving in this populated area, and to see how well the white squirrels are doing compared to their siblings,” Zimmerman says Glesener adds that the population appears to be maintaining its numbers or possibly growing by a small percentage. Zimmerman says there are three reasons that tree squirrels thrive in the Brevard area—the density of trees, which they need for food and mating, the city-wide ordinance protecting the squirrels and the fact that town residents will actually put out feeders to encourage the squirrels. “They aren’t the sort of cute, cuddly thing that people want to make pets out of,” Zimmerman says. “But the residents here have a recognized respect for them.” “I have had people tell me they will brake for white squirrels, but not gray ones. Or that they will let white squirrels feed at their bird feeders, but shoo gray ones away,” Glesener says. “There is much civic pride over our squirrels.”

48 Comments

  1. Lorna Hattler

    May 19, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    Great article! We have a very few white squirrels here Charleston, SC. There is one (at least) that lives on Johns Island, SC at the Angel Oak. He is very shy and you have to be at the right place at the right time to see him. We have gotten enough pictures of him to know that he is not albino but truly white.
    Unfortunately, the land he lives on was bought by a developer that intends to put 600 apartments and retail space on his 42 acres. I don’t think the little squirrel will stay.
    Please visit our web site http://www.savetheangeloak.org and help us. Any donations are greatly appreciated!

  2. johnny hayles

    May 27, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    i live in oxford, mississippi….60 miles south of memphis, tn….i have a white squirrel hanging around the tree line by my garden/pasture….been hanging around since last fall. dark eyes, solid white, and pretty big….for a squirrel.

  3. Debbie Medlin

    December 27, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    About three months ago I spotted a white squirrel in our front yard in Greenville, NC. Over the last three weeks I have seen it a little more often in the back around our bird feeders. We are in the country with lots of trees. My son was able to get a few pictures of “Snow White” over Christmas. He said he/she was not an albino, just a white squirrel with dark eyes. She is a little more skittish than my regular grey squirrels. I’m always watching for her now.

  4. Birgit Wassmuth

    January 3, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    We just returned from a vacation in Hendersonville, NC. A few days ago, when I was walking our Doberman Scarlett, she quietly alerted me to something she noticed halfway up on a tree about 100 feet away. She didn’t bark, and she didn’t want to charge forward. She just sat down quietly and gazed in one direction with complete focus and attention. She ignored several of my commands to move on. Then I looked for what she had been staring at: A white squirrel. And before long, there were two more, and then a gray one. They seemed to be chasing each other and having fun. I couldn’t believe my eyes so I talked to Scarlett and thanked her for bringing this to my attention. Too bad I didn’t have my camera with me, but the memory of the three happy white squirrels will forever live on in my mind.

  5. Susetta Treml

    January 4, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    There is a squirrel in our neighborhood in Tulsa Ok that is white on the top of his body including his head, but his underside and tail are red. He appears to have equal amounts of both color. He has been here for at least 3 years and I finally got a picture of him today right in my own front yard. He appears to have light colored blue or green eyes.

    • Melody

      August 3, 2014 at 10:05 am

      I live in very Northeast Texas and I have a squirrel in my backyard that I’ve been feeding pecans. It has solid white on it’s front body and that’s it it’s been here for about six months.

    • Michele

      September 18, 2017 at 11:34 am

      I keep spotting a squirrel in my backyard with regular colors except it is wearing a white coat! Never seen a squirrel that look like this. Has anyone else spotted such coloring in my area? I live Oklahoma City.

  6. janet herb

    March 7, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    we have two and live in shreveport la. i feed the birds and squirrel and they are regular visitors. they have dark eyes and have gotten quite use to us, they are quite large, but then again so are all the squirrels in my yard, we go through 50 lbs of sunflower seeds a month. i have several videos of them.

  7. Robin

    April 4, 2011 at 7:55 am

    We have two white squirrels in our neighborhood in Wakefield Massachusetts. We have had at least 2 white squirrels since 2009. The local paper published our pics of them in 2009 and 2010. We will send this years pics of them as they are back!! We love watching them and they are so beautiful!

  8. Dave

    May 25, 2011 at 5:13 am

    For the first time ever, we had a white squirrel with dark eyes on our deck railing. It was accompanied by a grey squirrel. Fortunately, I was able to get several close-up pictures of it. What a beautiful creature! Now, we can only hope the eagles don’t get it.

  9. Pingback: The white squirrels of Brevard | Travels with Ace

  10. Bubi

    June 22, 2011 at 2:21 am

    Going to put this aritcle to good use now.

  11. Gerald Reiser

    June 27, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    I have seen White Squirrels many times in the Brevard area but today we were fortunate to have one at our bird feeder. We live in Pottery Terrace, Flat Rock, NC which is about 1 mile from the Dana post office. I managed to get several pictures and this fellow has all the classic markings of the Brevard White Squirrel. Prior to this sighting, we have noticed several Grey Squirrels with a pure white chest at our bird feeder. This is my first sighting of a White in the 9 years I have lived here.

  12. Marie Costanza

    October 1, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    I saw a whitesquerril in Stratford CT and could not believe my eyes is this possible in this area

  13. Nancy DeMuro

    October 4, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    I have discovered white squirrels in Harrisburg, NC, and am so mesmerized by their beauty that I visit and photograph them at least 3 times a week. They seem a bit more shy than their gray cousins, but I’m hoping with time and familiarty (plus a few select treats) they will become comfortable with my presence so that I can observe them at closer range. I’ve also heard that there is another community of white squirrels in Charlotte, NC, and plan on visiting that site soon. What a delight!

    • Marvin Alexander

      November 1, 2017 at 8:36 pm

      I would love to see some white squirrel and black squirrels living in Charlotte North Carolina I live in the Derita community

  14. BONNIE LILLY

    October 10, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    iI AM SO EXCITED TO SEE A WHITE SQUIRREL. FOR THE PAST WEEK A WHITTE SQUIRREL HAS BEEN FROLICKING AROUND OUR WOODED BACK YARD AND DRINKING FROM OUR BIRD BATH IN THE BACK YARD. HE JUMPS IN THE ENGLISH IVY FOLLOWED BY TWO OR THREE BROWN SQUIRELS. SHOULD I TRY AND TRAP HIM FOR RESERCE, WHAT IF IT’S A FEMALE AND SHE HAS A NEST NEARBY. I IS AN ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS ANIMAL. I LIVE IN CLAY, ALA. 35048. IFROM MY RESERCE THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A WHITE SQUIRREL SIGHTING. MY HUSBAND HAS LIVED ON OUR PROERTY FOR 70 YEARS AND SAYS HE’S NEVER SEEN ONE. I’M SO ANXIOUS TO HEAR FROM SOMEONE. THANNK YOU FOR YOUR TIME. BONNIE LILLY

  15. Barbara Derosier

    October 16, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    October 16, 2011 Whitman, Massachusetts (20 miles south of Boston)
    He’s back! 🙂 We first saw our white squirrel last December. To our delight he appeared on our patio again today looking very healthy.

  16. Elise Gotschall

    December 9, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    I was walking with my son on the bike trails in Crowfield Plantation in Goose Creek, SC and we saw two of them tonight. It was so neat as i have never seen one before but they looked exactly like this and i even got the chance to snap a few pictures on my phone. Great article. 🙂

  17. Holli Cagle

    January 23, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    I live in North Georgia and took pictures and video today of the White Squirrel with black eyes in our woods. Thanks for this site. Thought I was crazy. LOL

  18. Marcel

    February 9, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    Lorna! what an encouragement to see others appreciating our snowy white friends here near the Angel Oak! We were blessed today to meet him (or her?) as he merrily (yet shyly) frolicked all along the lane. How warmly he greeted us on our tiresome journey on our way to a Great Tree.

    Our only trouble, we couldn’t capture his handsome beauty on our camera. Can any one instruct us on the proper means of photographing the beautiful white squirrel? otherwise my friends simply won’t believe it!

    Marcel Nottheshel
    charleston, SC

  19. Jennifer

    February 22, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Just spotted my first white squirrel this morning in Rosedale Maryland. At first I though it was a plastic bag stuck in the tree. Then it started moving, I thought maybe it was a kitten, but as I got closer I saw a fluffy tail and tiny head. Maybe someone’s ferret got loose. But to my surprise it was a white squirrel. I ran to get my camera since I have never seen one and I’m sure whoever I told woud say, “Are you sure it wasn’t a platic bag?” I was a little late to work, but it’s not every day you see a white squirrel. Definitely worth it!

  20. Caroline Fryar

    March 19, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    I’m sitting in my suv in Mounts Corner, SC looking at a white squirrel. I was told that means good luck.

  21. Tracy Scavone

    March 24, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    My husband and I live in Crowfield Plantation in Goose Creek, SC.. I had the privilege of seeing one of these beautiful white squirrels Tuesday of this week. It my first time seeing one, I couldn’t wait to get home to tell my husband about it. Then tonight as we were driving in we were lucky enough to see another one, perhaps the same one or a different one. Either way it was beautiful and this time it was my husband’s first time seeing a white squirrel. Just another one of God’s beautiful creations! 🙂

  22. Carl Dickey

    May 9, 2012 at 10:16 am

    OMG I have 2 white squirrrels in my front yard out here on my Johns Island property and there are bunches on Wadmalaw Island SC!

  23. DeWees Keller

    May 26, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    This past Tuesday I looked out my window and saw what I thought was a kitten.. Upon looking closer I realized that it was a white squirrel. I called to my husband for vertication. It was a beautiful sight. We have continured to watch for it but as of this date we have not been able to see it again. I feel privileged to have witnessed this unusual animal.

  24. nanette vance

    June 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    We are in the country south of Franklin, TN. We have a white squirrel in our yard every day scampering around the property.the squirrel doesn’t seem to be very fearful, tends to watch us quietly. Additionally we have a squirrel like animal with a longer body and a flatter tail. It has a white face but is moluti colorored browns-blackish fur everywhere but on the face. We thought it might be some kind of marmot as the face was almost monkeyish. ran up into a tree before we could snap a photo…any thoughts on what this is?

  25. Ashley Gillespie

    December 17, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    I live in Moncks Corner South Carolina and I habe a white squirrel that lives in my back yeard for the last 3 years. We also have a black one with a white spot on its tail and a white and grey one that run around my yard. They are so cute

  26. Kim Shackelford

    January 6, 2013 at 9:48 am

    We just spotted a white squirrel at our lakehouse in Eatonton, GA. It was so cute! Still trying to capture a decent picture…I have several but they are blurry

  27. Tammy Johnson

    January 6, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    My parents had land on the AR/MO line by Golden, MO. I had seen a solid white squirrel shortly after my step father had passed away. I couldn’t believe it, had to look twice. I had seen it 2 different times. I had never heard of a solid white squirrel before. I always thought it was a sign and it meant something special.

  28. Andi

    February 23, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    They are definitely real! I live in Horse Shoe, North Carolina (not too far from Brevard) and there is a white squirrel living outside my house right now. I can literally see him outside my window as we speak. 🙂

  29. Barry

    February 24, 2013 at 9:03 am

    I have enjoyed watching a white squirrel in my yard for the past two years here in Oakman Alabama just north of Birmingham. The squirrel is completely white with a slight cream color on the top of its tail. I have not had the opportunity to see its eye color. He seems to travel mostly on the ground gathering food. He returned again on February 22, 2013.

  30. Susannah Challis

    April 6, 2013 at 9:50 am

    Yesterday my husband & I visited the Angel Oak in South Carolina & I saw two white squirrels. I had never seen a white squirrel before, so what a surprise! The first squirrel was in the lane near the Oak. It dashed across the dirt road in front of our slow-moving car, so I got a good look at it. It was white with a pronounced grey smudge the entire length of its back. The second squirrel was pure white. It was in a grove of trees at the edge of the grounds by the Angel Oak. The squirrel was so shy that I could not get closer to it than 15 feet, either horizontally or vertically, so my cell phone photos (no zoom available) came out poorly. From the article above, the first squirrel must be a variation of the Eastern grey squirrel, & the second one must be an albino squirrel. I was thrilled to see these beautiful little creatures!

  31. Brian Perkins

    May 9, 2013 at 7:26 am

    I live in Jonesboro Arkansas and I have never seen a white squirrel until today on my way to work. I thought I was seeing things till I approached the tree the squirrel was at. I got maybe 7 feet away before it turned and dashed up the tree. I thought to myself “wish I had a camera” then just as soon as the squirrel was there it was gone. I didn’t believe in white squirrels until now. 🙂

  32. David

    May 16, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    Just saw 2 white squirrels in our back yard in Marietta, Ohio Southeast Ohio. They are really neat have snapped a few pictures.

  33. Mt. Granny

    May 20, 2013 at 8:58 am

    Our white squirrels have been trapped by many visitiors to our area in Brevard NC. These squirrels have been transported to many areas by these people. There is a fine for trapping these squirrels and or transporting them. They are our treasures.

  34. Lance Attaway

    May 25, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    We live in Hillsboro Oregon and we just spotted 6 white squirrels on our property. We had know idea that they existed. Going to try and get pics.

  35. Eve Wiesener

    June 20, 2013 at 7:39 pm

    We live in central Michigan, and two years ago during the winter season, we had a completely white beautiful squirrel in our back garden. She lived in a woodpile under our kitchen window which she completely stockpiled in the fall with walnuts from the front yard. We nicknamed her “snow white”. To our delight my husband constructed a little shed-like roof on the woodpile and she would sit all winter long under the roof and consume her stockpile of walnuts. Unfortunately, last year we did not see the white squirrel at all.

    However, this year we have another mostly white squirrel in our front garden. She has a black marking on her lower back and her ears are coloured a brownish grey. She is the same small size as “snow white”.

  36. Bettye Cates

    October 9, 2013 at 11:58 pm

    About a year and a half ago, I bought a house in Etowah, NC, about 15 miles from Brevard, and I have had 3 generations of White Squirrels living in the attic over my bedroom in that time. I named the first one I saw Diamond for the shape of his little grey hat, then when his girlfriend showed up with a rounded hat, I named her Pearl. I’ve read that the males don’t help raise the babies, but these two seemed to be inseparable. They come out of my attic, then jump off the roof onto a branch hanging down in front of my living room window, which bounces up and down, announcing their arrival to entertain me and my 2 inside cats. One day last winter, I saw Pearl come racing off the roof, followed shortly by a very large grey squirrel, and last spring she had 2 white babies, and 2 grey babies. Pearl has since disappeared, but there is a new Mommy White Squirrel I call Lucky (Horse Shoe shaped grey hat) living in my attic with her 4 White babies that have just started traveling the ‘Tree highway’ from the roof in mid-September. 2 of them have a lot more black on them, so I named one Shadow, and the other Slash, because he had a black stripe on each hip, though I haven’t seen him since last week, and I’m afraid he got hit by a car on the main road into my neighborhood. I haven’t posted video of the current family online yet, but I will try to post the links to my You-tube videos of Diamond burying food in the yard, then 2 videos of Diamond and Pearl building a nest in the tree outside my dining room window. I have a pic I posted on Facebook of Shadow eating a nut on the little Squirrel Picnic Table while I stood barely 2 feet away. Just today, he actually ran from the tree trunk straight out that branch, and bounced up and down in front of the window looking right in at me, clearly trying to get my attention. I stood up from my chair, and noticed that the corn cob I’d put out just an hour before had been picked clean, so he was apparently asking for more. Needless to say, I went right out with more corn and a few nuts, and by the time I’d walked back up to my Living Room, he was happily snacking on the new supply. I hope you enjoy the videos!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evvlG-A1jpI
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWEI0OvW7Zc
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lNlyGlWUk4

  37. Linda

    October 13, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Just saw my first white squirrel run in front of my car westport ma!!!

  38. Grindstaff, Barbara

    November 20, 2013 at 11:57 pm

    I live in Chester, IL, and saw a white squirrel in my back yard this afternoon. I first saw one about four years ago, but hadn’t seen it for a long time. But, today there it was. Got a picture, too.

  39. Bill Lowman

    October 2, 2015 at 7:59 pm

    Just spotted a white squirrel in my back yard today. Located off Blythe St in Hendersonville NC. What an exciting site to see. We are new to the area and hope to see many more. Will start feeding them and hope for a return viewing. Couldn’t get close enough to see the eyes but it was pure white. Unbelievable ……

  40. Sherri S Kelly

    June 6, 2016 at 8:56 am

    I was driving to work in Cornelius, NC and a solid white squirrel ran out in front of my car. I was so surprised. I didn’t want to hit him and he looked like he ran under my car but I saw him run on the other side. I was so excited to tell my 99 year old client about it when I arrived at her home. I feel so special that I saw him.
    Lucky in NC

  41. Jill lipps

    October 1, 2016 at 11:57 am

    I live in Palestine, Ohio about 30 minutes out of Richmond Ind. I have a white squirrel that showed up last year. He isn’t albino because he has brown eyes.Up close he is dirty white but sure shows up hopping in the grass… He gets all the peanuts he wants off my porch….

  42. George Willingham

    October 16, 2016 at 11:27 am

    We saw a white squirrel in eastern Greenville County SC today. White fur and dark eyes.

  43. Kimberly White

    May 26, 2017 at 10:37 am

    I just saw a white squirrel for the first time here in Pensacola, FL. He has black eyes and is all white – no grey patch on head. I have pictures, but not sure if we can post them here.

  44. Kate

    July 28, 2017 at 10:11 pm

    There was a white squirrel in my yard all last summer in Crofton, Maryland that was ll white with black eyes. I got a few good pictures of it. I haven’t seen it after last summer though.

  45. Marguerite Kriz

    February 20, 2018 at 8:15 am

    Here they are in Flatrock, NC in Kenmure CC. Love them! What a change from Florida

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