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The case of the purple squirrel

Squirrels. They are just about my favorite outdoor creature, and almost every spring I like to write about them. I am fond of a lot of other animals, but squirrels with their amazing acrobatics, their ability to find things, get into things, and most of the time, get out of things, is remarkable. However, it’s that ability to get into things that occasionally causes them trouble.  Take an incident in Fort Wayne, Indiana last week.

A squirrel got into the electrical system of a community center and managed to short out the heating and cooling system. Fort Wayne now has a bill for $300 thousand. I doubt their city council is feeling all that warm and cuddly about my cute little friends, but fortunately, this column doesn’t run in Fort Wayne.
Here in Virginia, we’re used to what’s called the Eastern Gray Squirrel. For most of us, they’re the only squirrel we’ve ever seen. There are some variations, however. As close as Fairfax County, there are black squirrels that are descended from Canadian squirrels released in Washington D.C. by the Smithsonian Institution in 1909. They’re moving south, but at their current pace, they probably won’t reach Fredericksburg or the Northern Neck until the early part of the next century. They’re not in a hurry. However, I have to admit, that I am so fond of their coloring that I’ve thought about catching one up North and releasing him closer to where I live.  But, that probably wouldn’t be fair, and besides, there are enough factors disrupting the balance of nature as it is.

In addition to gray and black squirrels, there also red squirrels, but they all appear natural in their natural coloration. But, have you ever seen a purple squirrel?  Most likely not. And no, I don’t mean the substance-induced purple squirrel you saw on spring break in 1969. You know, that trip to Clearwater Beach in the VW bus with the flowers on it.  But, I am not kidding. There have been some genuine sightings of purple squirrels.  And this isn’t just some odd shade of gray; these squirrels are purple. Authorities considered the first purple squirrel sightings to be fakes, but there have been enough reports, including one in England, for naturalists to speculate that some kind of chemical pollution, bromides perhaps, might be causing the change in their coloration. It’s not natural, probably not healthy, but the squirrels appeared in good shape at least, and the hope is that these are isolated occurrences.  It’s a mystery, and don’t be surprised if you see more reports about purple squirrels.  

On a less bizarre note, another type of squirrel with remarkable coloring has recently gotten some notice because it only exists only on a few thousand acres on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Its natural habitat is the Ponderosa Pines that grow in the area, and apparently the species hasn’t moved beyond that very small area. They have dark coloring, and this is the part that’s unique; with bright white tails. They’re a sight, and fortunately, they’re under the federal government’s protection.

For some people squirrels are a nuisance. I have a policy of feeding both the squirrels and birds. That way, everybody is happy. But for bird lovers, squirrels are generally not welcome, and birders are always on the lookout for squirrel-proof birdfeeders. It’s kind of a passion. One I found relies on a remotely controlled electrical “zapper.”  This gadget requires a lot of vigilance, and when a squirrel makes his move to steal some bird food, you can give him a zap through the electrified mesh. The ad (and I’m not making this up) said it was great for retirees. Just sit back in the old easy chair and click on the old squirrel zapper. As a recent retiree, I rather resented that comment; I do have better things to do than sit around and zap squirrels, so I think I will pass on that new product.  But, disturbingly, I do know some people who just might enjoy it.


—Reach David Kerr at
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