Tiny pure white squirrel seen amongst beech trees.
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Great picture. They are quite rare but have been seen in various different places in the UK. Were there any grey squirrels around as well?
If it is a true albino it should have pink eyes. Did it?
University of Edinburgh and Biodiversity Observatory (OU)
Hi Laurel / Jonathan
I wasn't able to get a closer look at the squirrel as it was quite frisky, despite its apparent tameness in this photo. There were quite a few people around trying to snap it with mobile phones, etc., so I took my pic and left. Didn't want to hassle the poor thing and be viewed as the paparazzi of the animal kingdom!
I didn't see any grey squirrels at the time, tho' that doesn't mean there weren't any.
Thanks for your help.
Thanks, Gill. I take it that this means that it's simply a white grey squirrel, without albino characteristics other than whiteness?
Hi Pam - yes, white squirrels are not a separate species, and grey squirrels (and other animals) can be affected by either leucism (where all types of pigment can be affected) and albinism (where only the production of melanin is reduced). It seems counter-intuitive that albinos should therefore have pink eyes and leucistic animals do not, but my understanding is that leucism arises because pigment-containing cells don't migrate from the neural crest in the embryo, but melanin-containing cells in the retina are not derived from the neural crest so are not affected. In albinos, where the melanin is much-reduced or absent in all tissues, the blood vessels of the eyes show through and make them look red or pink. But if I've got that wrong please so someone chip in!
OU Certificate in Contemporary Science
Thanks so much for this info Gill. I've found it really interesting and helpful.
Gill is right concerning genetically based leucism, there are also other forms in that leucism can affect only part of the body, e.g. a few white feathers in a blackbird and/or be temporary. In this case it is simply that melanin is not produced during the development of the fur or feather (usually due to some form of external stress) and if the animal moults it may well grow normal fur or feathers next time. Therefore, leucism can be genetically based and permanent or a temporary reaction to an external source of stress, e.g. lack of food or cold weather when energy is directed from melanin production to more important functions. To be honest leucism has not been studied as extensively as albinism and we know far less about it, indeed the term is used to cover many different deficiencies, even the lack of pigments other than melanin e.g. a lack of the yellow pigment in canaries leaves them looking a washed out, pale yellow/cream.
On the other hand albinism is always genetically based and, as Gill describes, the gene mutation happens at the stem cell stage of development therefore it is always permanent and affects the whole body - it is impossible to have partial albinism.
As for this animal, it is impossible to say if it is a true albino or suffering from a genetically based form of leucism. The best way is to look for the pink eyes, leucistic animals never have pink eyes but albinos always do - see Gill's description above.
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Thanks for this, Graham. I knew none of this before I spotted the squirrel (well, I thought I knew what albino was!), so it's been an interesting learning curve for me. Difficult to get a squirrel to stay still long enough in the right place to get a closer look at its eyes, but I'll try harder next time!
Lat/Lng: 53.12765, -2.2541
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