Don Weiser photo
In Brevard, N.C., the white squirrels have a distinctive black cap and black saddle that WCU employees aren’t reporting seeing on their white squirrel.
A rare sighting of a white squirrel at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C. has workers there abuzz.
The squirrel has been spotted a number of times, and is clearly not albino because it doesn’t have pink eyes, said Roger Turk, grounds superintendent for WCU’s facilities management department.
There is a large population of 1,500 or so white squirrels in Brevard, N.C.—a small town east of Cullowhee. The white squirrels are a unique phenomenon intrinsic to that area. Sightings are unusual outside Transylvania County, although not entirely unheard of. It is not known whether the white squirrel in Cullowhee is an offshoot of that population or simply an Eastern Gray Squirrel variation.
Jim Costa, a WCU biology professor and director of the Highlands Biological Station, said it’s possible the white squirrel strain from Brevard migrated to Cullowhee—but it might also be a separate strain that evolved on its own. In Brevard, the white squirrels have a distinctive black cap and black saddle that WCU employees aren’t reporting seeing on their white squirrel.
The white squirrel population in Brevard, according to annual white squirrel counts, is growing larger, Warner said. The 2010 count recorded 37.1 percent white-versus-gray, the highest yet on record, in Brevard, well above the 14-year average of 28.1 percent, according to Brevard’s White Squirrel Research Institute.
One of the prime viewing sites for white squirrels is Brevard College. The town and college are so proud of their white squirrels Brevard holds an annual White Squirrel Festival and a Squirrel Box Derby.
The story behind the population in Brevard seems a mixture of fact and lore. According to history, the white squirrels there originated from a circus truck that overturned in 1949 near the home of a man in Madison, Fla. He gave two white squirrels to another individual, who bequeathed them on Barbara Mull, a longtime resident of Brevard. She kept them inside and hoped they might breed, but they didn’t. In 1951, one of the white squirrels escaped outdoors. Not long afterwards, Barbara’s father let the other white squirrel free. Before long, white squirrels were seen about Brevard. And now, at WCU.