Untamed Lowcountry

Does Yemassee have a new mascot? Rare white squirrel becoming ‘famous’ after sightings

Have you ever seen an albino squirrel? Yemassee man caught one on video

David Paul Murray was driving when he spotted a white squirrel in Yemassee on Friday, May 3, 2019. He says the squirrel had red eyes, making it likely to be an albino squirrel.
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David Paul Murray was driving when he spotted a white squirrel in Yemassee on Friday, May 3, 2019. He says the squirrel had red eyes, making it likely to be an albino squirrel.

David Paul Murray of Yemassee was on his way to work Friday morning when an unusual white animal stopped him in the middle of the street.

“I thought it was an escaped ferret,” he said. “I thought, ‘Oh no, somebody’s pet got loose.’”

But then the animal moved, and he realized it was a white squirrel.

He pulled his work van to the side of Salkehatchie Road near the town’s municipal complex and took a few photos and some video as proof.

“Nobody’s going to believe I saw a white squirrel,” he said. “I’ve never seen a white squirrel in all my life.”

Yemassee Town Clerk Matt Garnes confirmed that a white squirrel lives in the area around Town Hall.

“It’s famous around here,” Garnes said. “He’s a fixture in Yemassee.”

Mayor Colin Moore said the squirrel has lived in the area around the town’s municipal complex and the nearby Baptist church for around two years and seems to be “street smart” enough to stay out of the road and away from harm.

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A rare white squirrel is known to live in the area around the Town of Yemassee Municipal Complex. David Paul Murray Submitted

Albino or not?

Murray said that, before the squirrel darted farther from him Friday morning, he saw its red eyes. He used to own an albino rabbit, he said, so he knew what to look for.

“I wish I could have gotten closer,” he said.

The color of the animals eyes is important because that would distinguish the squirrel as an albino as opposed to an Eastern Gray squirrel with a white coat, according to the White Squirrel Research Institute. The latter would have dark eyes.

The institute is in Brevard, N.C., which is known for its large numbers of white squirrels.

Neither Garnes nor Moore could confirm the color of the Yemassee squirrel’s eyes.

“We’ve never gotten close enough to him to tell,” Garnes said.

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John Housley submitted this photo of an albino squirrel that lived in a knot hole of a live oak on St. Helena Island in 2014. Submitted photo

In 2014, a reader shared photos of an albino squirrel — with the distinct pink eyes — on St. Helena Island with The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette.

Both albino squirrels and white-coated squirrels are rare sights.

Biologist Rob Nelson tracks sightings of white squirrels, both albinos and “morphs,” as white-coated squirrels are categorized, at untamedscience.com.

In a video on the website, he talks about the first time he saw a white squirrel in his neighborhood.

“I was like hoooooooooo-ly moly. That’s a white squirrel. And I had never seen a white squirrel. It was pretty cool,” he says in the video.

Nelson’s website includes a form people can fill in to report sightings. A map created from those reports indicates both albino squirrels and morphs have been seen before in the Lowcountry.

Lisa Wilson is a breaking news reporter for The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. The 25-year newsroom veteran has worked for papers in Louisiana and Mississippi and is happy to call the Lowcountry home.
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