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Unique squirrels spotted in Fulton

Unique squirrels spotted in Fulton

December 7th, 2017 by Helen Wilbers in Local News

Jim Pierson's game camera captured this picture of two squirrels with unusual white tails. Pierson, who lives on West 8th Street, said the squirrels have been hanging out in his yard since October.

No, their tails haven't been bleached.

The two white-tailed squirrels living in Fulton resident Jim Pierson's back yard appear to have been born that way.

"I'm hoping we've got a boy and a girl and we'll have some babies," Pierson said of the unusual animals.

Pierson, who lives on West 8th Street, said he spotted one of the squirrels in early October.

"I thought, 'Well, that's kind of neat,'" he said.

A few days later, his wife spotted the second squirrel. That's when Pierson really got excited. He said he saw a lone white-tailed squirrel about 30 years ago, but he's never seen a pair of them before.

He's set out a squirrel feeder to make sure the two stick around, and it seems to be working. They've made a home in a tree, and frequently show up in the pictures his backyard game camera shots.

A wildlife expert thinks the squirrels might be siblings or otherwise closely related.

"The color pattern is caused by recessive genes and it is hereditary," said Chris Newbold, natural history biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

In order for a squirrel to inherit a recessive trait such as a white tail, both of its parents need to have the genes for that trait. And because the white tail trait is so uncommon, it's likely any squirrels possessing it in a given area are related to each other.

Newbold said neither he nor MDC mammalogist Debby Fantz have ever seen a white-tailed squirrel.

"Those squirrels are pretty unusual," he said in an email. "My first thought was that it looked like a squirrel had crossed with a skunk."

After the two did some digging on the internet, they found cases of the phenomenon reported in Iowa, Michigan and a few other places.

Newbold added he's not sure whether the squirrel is a gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) or a fox squirrel (Sciurus niger), as both have variable colorations.

"From what I've been able to find, gray squirrels that have white colorization seem to be a bit more common than fox squirrels, but that may just be my perception, also," he said.

Gray squirrels are most often gray, like the name suggests, but can also be black — or even white, like the famous white squirrels of Marionville.

Fantz will be keeping an ear out for news of more white-tailed squirrels in Fulton and the surrounding area.

"This is pretty unusual, and (Pierson) should be on the lookout for more in the future," Newbold said.