Rare white squirrel spotted in Sarasota

Courtesy: Jennifer Wetherington

Squirrels are a common sight in Florida, but spotting a white one is a rare phenomenon.

Jennifer Wetherington said she was in a Publix parking lot in Sarasota on Saturday when she spotted a white squirrel in the grass.

Because the squirrel does not have red eyes, it's not an albino. Rather, researchers at Florida State University say its white fur is a genetic anomaly called leucism, which is a partial loss of pigmentation due to a mutated gene from the common Eastern Gray Squirrel.

FSU notes their light fur makes them easier to spot by predators.

"There is one very big disadvantage to a squirrel’s fur being white. It makes it much more difficult for them to camouflage, therefore exposing them to predators," FSU researchers noted on their website.

However, there are a few areas in the U.S. where populations of white squirrels appear to flourish, including the Tallahassee area and Northern Keys in Florida. One North Carolina town with a large presence of white squirrels even holds an annual festival in the critter's honor.