Share it! Science : See it? Share it! Melanistic Grey Squirrel

Saturday, January 16, 2016

See it? Share it! Melanistic Grey Squirrel


Have you ever seen a grey squirrel with black fur before? Nope, it’s not a new type of squirrel, it’s just a genetic mutation that results in more melanin, or pigment, in the fur. This version of the grey squirrel is called a melanistic squirrel.

This one was foraging around the bird feeders last weekend. We have seen a few of these throughout the past 4 years. They are always striking and very noticeable as they don’t blend into their surroundings quite like their grey relatives.
black version of a grey squirrel learn about wildlife

Grey squirrels can also have a white variation, where some or all of the fur is white. This is called leucistic or partial albinistic. If the squirrel also has pink eyes, then it is considered an albino variant.

Although it doesn’t happen in the wild as much as we see variation in human genetics, there can be variations in individuals within a species. Sometimes lobsters are blue, and sometimes dolphins are pink. Deer, squirrels and other animals can exhibit piebaldism, where they are missing pigment on some patches of their fur. These animals have patches of white fur or skin.

What advantages or disadvantages do these genetic variants have? Here is a lesson plan, “Color On, Color Off” for upper elementary through high school that explores albinism in animals. You might want to check it out at school or home. 

Have you ever seen an animal of a unique color? If you’ve seen something like this tell us about it in the comments below, e-mail us at shareitscience@gmail.com or post a picture to our Facebook page. 

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