ORLANDO, Fla. - It is pretty common to see squirrels in Florida, but spotting a white one is a rarity.
In a Facebook group called Unseen Florida, a woman shared photos of a white squirrel, believed to be albino, that she spotted in Marion County, sparking conversation from several others online who have also spotted white squirrels before, including Vinny Pons, of Palm Bay. He tells FOX 35 News he and his wife often feed one they have affectionately named Snowball, on a daily basis.
"Snowball has been hanging around our tree on and off for about five years," Pons said. Snowball is the only white squirrel they have ever seen in the area.
"Snowball wasn't always friendly. We'd see him on rare occasions but this year we started seeing him more often and began feeding him regularly for the past six or seven months, and now he comes here almost every day for his treats," Pons said.
(Credit: Vinny Pons)
What causes a squirrel to be white?
White squirrels are a mutation of the eastern gray squirrel, according to Florida State University's Coastal and Marine Laboratory. Their white coat is caused by a genetic anomaly called leucism, a condition of reduced pigmentation in animals that is caused by a recessive allele.
The white coat can serve as a disadvantage because it makes it harder for them to hide from predators.
What is the difference between a white squirrel and an albino squirrel?
Albino squirrels lack the ability to make the dark group of pigments generally referred to as melanin, according to the White Squirrel Institute, while white, or leucistic squirrels, have a reduction in all types of skin pigment.
Albino squirrels are characterized by a white coat and their eyes are either pink/red or blue. The white squirrel, however, typically has dark eyes and often has a dark head patch and a stripe down their backs.
Where are white squirrels found?
The rare animal can be found throughout North America and Canada. Its major habitats include Brevard and Charlotte North Carolina, Marionville, Missouri, Kenton, Tennessee, and in Florida, they are spotted in Northern Keys, Florida and near Tallahassee, Florida.
Officials say they also have been seen in other areas along the Gulf Coast.