JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In your yard or a park, you probably see a squirrel at least once a day.
But have you ever seen a white one? And just because it’s white doesn’t mean it’s albino.
Several weeks ago, News4JAX received photos from Greg Goicoechea of a white squirrel in a neighborhood in the area of Atlantic and Kernan boulevards. That was the first time I had ever seen one and thought it would be neat to share the rare sighting with others. I posted an article, writing: “This isn’t something you see every day!” When I pointed out the images to my coworkers, one of them shared that she had actually done a story a few years ago on a white squirrel spotted in Avondale.
After I posted the story about the recent sighting in Jacksonville, I received more than a dozen emails, many of which included photos, from people who had their own encounters with white squirrels in the city or just wanted to share what they knew about the animals.
I then started to question just how scarce these white squirrels are. According to experts I’ve spoken with, they are, in fact, quite rare. But when I tracked the sightings that viewers had emailed me and our newsroom about, three general locations in Jacksonville emerged as the most common areas where these creatures are living.
3 types of white squirrels
When I first reported on white squirrels, I learned from my research there were at least two different kinds.
I later spoke with Dr. Yousuf Jafarey, a staff veterinarian at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens who told me there are actually three. One of those is called the Oriental tree squirrel, a true white squirrel in which the light pigment is part of its normal coloration, but you likely won’t ever see one in Northeast Florida.
“That’s found in Southeast Asia,” Jafarey said. “So it would be pretty unusual for anyone to spot one of those here.”
According to Jafarey, the other two types of white squirrels that you would see here are generic variants of the eastern grey squirrel: one is called leucism and the other is albinism.
“Leucism is where there’s a lower amount of pigment in the animal than normal. So it can actually be a partial loss or complete loss of pigment, but, typically, the leucistic animals or leucistic squirrels will have a pale pigment to their coat, but their eyes will look dark in color,” Jafarey explained.
“Alternatively, albino squirrels actually have a complete lack of melanin. There’s no partial lack. It’s completely lacking melanin, which is something that darkens skin and different body structures. Those animals will have the pale eyes that sometimes look pink or red in color or completely pale.”
Based on the photos we received, it’s hard to tell what types of white squirrels have been seen in Jacksonville. Jay Cumbie took photos of a white squirrel, who he named Creamy, by San Jose Boulevard and Baymeadows Road. He believes Creamy is not an albino. I also spoke with Dr. Matthew Gilg, a professor of biology at the University of North Florida, and based on our conversation, it appears Creamy is likely a leucistic squirrel, as Creamy has dark-colored eyes.
“In those cases ... the squirrels typically have white fur, but they don’t have the pink dyes, the light-colored eyes that you would see in a true albino,” Gilg said.
Both leucistic and albino squirrels are “fairly rare,” Jafarey says, but leucism is the more common condition. Jafarey says part of that has to do with eyesight. He says albino animals typically have very poor vision because they lack the melanin in their eyes to be able to see, whereas leucistic animals will typically have more normal vision.
“The albino squirrels, part of the reason why you won’t see as many of them is many of them, when they’re born, they have a failure to thrive. And so they don’t often survive, you know, infancy because it is such an abnormal variance that sometimes they get kicked out of their nest or intentionally so or they just will never develop the vision to be able to be hunter and gatherers as squirrels are, whereas leucistic squirrels, because they have pigment in their eyes, they can at least see a little bit to be able to forage. And that’s part of the reason why you’ll see a lot more leucism than albinism, as well,” Jafarey said. “Survival of the fittest as they say.”
3 clusters of local white squirrel sightings
While documenting and tracking white squirrel sightings in Duval County using the messages we received, three areas emerged as places where it appears these uncommon animals are living:
- The East Arlington and Girvin areas, which are right next to each other.
- Goodby’s Creek, the area near San Jose Boulevard and Baymeadows Road that includes the Villa San Jose neighborhood.
- The Westside, including Avondale, Riverside and Hyde Park.
Michael Carr is among those who sent me photos of a white squirrel. I spoke with him last week, and that’s when he told me he had just seen that white squirrel a few days prior.
“I have the NextDoor app, and there’s a lot of locals around here — a lot, I’d say five or checks that I know of — that have posted seeing that squirrel,” Carr said. “It’s been around for a while. It’s hard to miss him or her, whichever it is. It’s almost four or five times a week. It’s always on the same road.”
The white squirrel is not the only squirrel whom Carr is acquainted with. Carr has previous experience rescuing animals, and he and Cynthia Dethlefsen have rehabilitated eastern gray squirrels, including one named Penelope who has been in Carr’s backyard for just over a year and another named George who has lived in Carr’s house since Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
While Carr says George is nonreleasable, Jafarey did note that he discourages people from keeping squirrels as pets. “They are wildlife,” he said. Jafarey says, typically, the first thing to do is if you see a squirrel that you might think is injured or abandoned is to look up a local wildlife rehabilitator. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators around the state.
Also in Villa San Jose, Joe Liguori has also spotted a white squirrel, but it’s unclear if it’s the same one Carr sees on a regular basis. I also learned of at least two other white squirrel sightings nearby, but again, it’s hard to tell if it’s the same squirrel.
In a different area of town, a woman named Monica has — not one — but two white squirrels for neighbors in the area of Kernan and Atlantic boulevards — the same location where Goicoechea spotted one several weeks ago. She said she has seen them in her backyard every day for the last two days. She says they drive her puppies “crazy.”
And across the St. Johns River, white squirrels have been spotted in various neighborhoods on the city’s Westside — although some of the sightings date back about a decade.
This interactive map tracks the locations where News4JAX viewers have reported seeing white squirrels in Jacksonville:
Have you seen a white squirrel in Northeast Florida? News4JAX Insiders can comment on this story below. You can also upload photos to SnapJAX or email me any pictures you’d like to share at firstname.lastname@example.org.