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April, 2019

It’s Snow-White and It’s Winning Hearts:
‘What in the World Is That?…’

By Richard Wilkinson

A Catholic University albino squirrel, photographed by university photographer Tony Fiorini just north of the McMahon Hall parking lot.

When sophomore Adam Iaccarino saw the creature on campus, he had no idea what it was for a moment because it was completely white. Then, for a second moment, he couldn’t believe that it was what it was: an albino squirrel.


About a year earlier, electrical equipment repairman Tom Outsa was working at CUA’s Marian Scholasticate building and saw what was perhaps the same squirrel as it scampered across a campus roadway. For Outsa, the sight evoked aesthetic pleasure and childhood memories. Born in Thailand, he says his parents had told him a story from Buddhist scriptures that if one were to kill and eat a white squirrel, the world would be broken or destroyed in a terrible flood or cataclysm.

These are just two of the many members of the CUA community who have been beguiled by this creature. Many people report that this is the very first time they’ve seen an albino squirrel.

Seeing the squirrel “made me smile,” says sophomore Peter Walz, who estimates that 90 percent of the student body knows about the albino squirrel (or squirrels?), which frequent(s) the part of campus north of Caldwell and Hannan halls.

The creature “made my day,” says Senior Hannah O’Sullivan, holding out her cell phone to show the photo she took of the squirrel a week earlier as it looked for food on the rocks paving the north side of Caldwell Hall. O’Sullivan says the animal let her get pretty close — 6 to 8 feet away — as she took its photo.

“It had red, beady eyes, which were kind of gross,” she says.

That eye color is one of the hallmarks of albinism, which is the result of a mutation and is observed on rare occasions in squirrels, human beings and other species. To get a sense of how rare the condition is, consider the fact that only one in every 17,000 human beings is albinistic. In order for a creature to conceive albino offspring, both parents must have the recessive gene for albinism.

In addition to lacking skin pigment and having pink or red eyes, albino animals are especially sensitive to sunlight and typically have various eye impairments. In the case of squirrels, they’re also more visible to predators such as the large red-shouldered hawk that often visits CUA’s campus.

Although albino squirrels are rare, several towns and university campuses take pride in their populations of the snow-white creatures. The town of Olney, Ill., for example, dubs itself the “Home of the White Squirrels,” boasting a population of a few hundred of the striking rodents.


Wherever they live, they seem to bring a little levity and joy to people. In Olney, police officers wear white-squirrel patches on the shoulder of their uniforms and have a large white-squirrel logo on the front doors of their squad cars. As for collegiate campuses, the University of Texas in Austin has founded the Albino Squirrel Preservation Society — one of the school’s largest student organizations — and undergraduates there say that seeing one of the campus’ albino squirrels brings good luck on exams. The preservation society — which promotes awareness of squirrels, holds “albino squirrel campouts” and encourages squirrel-feeding parties — has since expanded to other schools in the United States, Canada and England. A contingent of students at the University of North Texas has even petitioned the student body to designate the campus’ white squirrel as the university’s secondary mascot after the eagle.

Catholic University’s white squirrel(s), like our campus’ gray and black varieties of the species, is (are) much more low-profile, seemingly influenced by CUA’s scholarly atmosphere to prefer a self-effacing life of gathering and storing provisions for the winter.

If we have a snowy winter, the white squirrels stand to do better than their darker-colored peers on the ultimate final exam, that of natural selection.


Editor's note: The presence of an albino squirrel was first mentioned to Inside CUA by Todd Peterson, B.S. 2000, who saw it while strolling through the campus this summer.

 


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Last Revised 18-Nov-08 03:20 PM.