This all-white, non-albino Eastern gray squirrel is one of several such squirrels that have taken up residence in an east Cobb County yard. The unusual coloration may be due to a genetic mutation or a rare gene. PHOTO CREDIT: Don Weissman

White squirrels appear in east Cobb backyard

Eastern gray squirrels are so common in Georgia that some people regard them as pests. But three and possibly more squirrels scampering around the yard of Don and Dottie Weissman in East Cobb County have become prized animals.

The creatures are pure white or nearly so — highly unusual for an animal whose common name comes, in part, from its normal drab, gray fur.

The Weissmans say they first noticed the odd squirrels in their yard in early January. “We don’t know where they came from, but we’re happy to have them,” Don said. They behave like any other Eastern gray squirrel, he added.

At least one of them is all white; the others are mostly white with some splotches and stripes of gray — a color pattern known as “piebald.”

Wildlife biologist Don McGowan of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said that during his 20 years with the agency, he has gotten only a few reports and photos of white squirrels in the state. “They’re certainly unusual,” he said.

Every so often an albino squirrel turns up in an area, but the Weissmans’ animals, which have normal dark eyes, are not albinos — a condition in which an animal’s body has no melanin, a color pigment, resulting in white skin, fur and pinkish eyes.

Short of albinism, squirrels with white coats and dark eyes likely are “leucistic,“ which is a partial loss of pigmentation. Leucistic animals have white, patchy coloration, but their eye color is unaffected.

A very rare possibility is that the squirrels carry a gene that makes their coats white. Such animals are known as “white morphs.”

Whatever the cause of their color, white squirrels often don’t last long in nature: Their whiteness marks them as easy targets for predators such as hawks.

In some cities, though, white squirrels thrive. In Brevard, N.C., which has an unusual colony of white squirrels, the animals are protected by city ordinance; an annual festival is even dedicated to them.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon will be first quarter on Sunday. Venus is very low in the west at dusk. Mars also is in the west at sunset and sets about three hours later. Jupiter rises out of the east before midnight. Saturn rises out of the east about three hours before dawn.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.