Rare white squirrels show up in Alexandria
The gray squirrel is one of Minnesota's most common wildlife species.
They are everywhere from the hardwood forests up north to the southern river bottoms and everywhere in between. No one takes a second look when one runs through the backyard, but seeing a white squirrel draws a different reaction.
"They are rare," Glenwood Area DNR assistant wildlife manager Jason Strege said. "It could be one of two things - Albino, with pink eyes, or some gray squirrels have a white gene that makes the coat white, but the eyes would be black in the case of the white gene. Both of these have been documented in Minnesota."
At least in a couple cases, white squirrels have been spotted this summer around Alexandria. Not one, but two of them have been frequenting the backyard of Chuck and Carol Bokinskie at their home in the residential area surrounding Lake Latoka just west of Alexandria.
It's not the first time they have noticed a white squirrel in their 20 years of living on the property, but it definitely constitutes as a rare occurrence.
"We had one 10-plus years ago probably, but never two," Chuck said.
The squirrels tend to be early risers, with the Bokinskies generally seeing them in their yard first thing in the morning. Odds of a squirrel being born white is said to be about one in 100,000.
Albinism is caused by a mutation on a gene that codes for pigmentation. An albino squirrel can generally be identified from the other white version of the grey squirrel by its red or pink eyes, a trait that Chuck said both the squirrels in his yard have.
"They both have pink eyes," he said. "To have two just blows me away."
While definitely rare, sightings of white squirrels around this area are not unheard of, Strege said. He gets a call on black or white squirrels every few years with most of the sightings coming within city limits or residential areas. The white fur on a squirrel makes them especially vulnerable to predators when they are born into more rural settings.
"There are usually less of the predators in town so they do not get taken out of the population as fast and can actually increase in numbers," Strege said. "I think most of the calls have come from the Alex area over the years."