Happy Thanksgiving from Camp Pinnacle! We hope everyone is enjoying this time with friends and family. This is a great time to focus on all for which we are grateful. All of us here at Camp Pinnacle are thankful for all of the families who are part of our camp family. We are thankful to have this wonderful life of sharing the outdoors with over 600 campers every summer, and for the great facility and staff who help make this possible. We are also lucky to be located in a very biologically diverse area and have our forests and streams full of animals that call Camp Pinnacle home.
Many people ask themselves this question as they drive through camp. Camp Pinnacle is a pretty special place to a lot of campers and alumni; it is also a very special habitat to over 14 species of mammals, 14 types of reptiles, and dozens of amphibian, fish, and bird varieties, all special in their own way. In today’s “Nature Nugget” I want to focus on a unique species native to Camp Pinnacle: the white squirrel.
What is a white squirrel?
White squirrels are a version of Sciurus carolinensi, commonly known as the eastern grey squirrel. There are two varieties of genetic differences that cause white coats. The first is albinism, caused by a mutation on a gene that codes for pigmentation. This also results in red eyes. The other is a white morph, caused by a different gene. Though naturally occurring, this trait in eastern grey squirrels is very, very rare.
Why are there white squirrels?
It’s rare to see a white squirrel, except at Camp Pinnacle, because white squirrels are likely to be less successful as a species because except in snowy climates they are more visible to predators. Predators to squirrels such as hawks really like it when their prey is highlighted white against the forest colors!
There are a few areas in the US that have very high numbers of white squirrels, including our neighbor Brevard, NC, which hosts the White Squirrel Festival. This could be for a few reasons. This could be a few reasons. Predators are less frequently found in town. This cancels out the negative selection against the white squirrels. After a few generations, all you get are whites, and they can spread to the rest of the town!
How did they get here?
Apparently, the white squirrels of western North Carolina originated from a carnival animal truck. According to Brevard resident Mrs. W.E. Mull, a pair of white squirrels was given to her brother-in-law, H.H. Mull, by Mr. Black of Madison, Florida, in 1949. A carnival truck had overturned and the squirrels were caught by Mr. Black when he observed them playing in his pecan grove.
Mull gave the squirrels to his niece, Barbara, who unsuccessfully tried to breed them. In 1951, she married and left home. Eventually, one of the white squirrels escaped, and Mr. Mull soon let the other one go. Before long, the squirrels began breeding in the wild and appeared in several areas of Brevard, NC. They have since spread through the surrounding area, and have a thriving population.
The next time you are at Camp Pinnacle, keep a look out for our lucky little white squirrels. Legend has it seeing a white squirrel means that you are going to have a good day!
Once again, happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Camp Pinnacle!