White groundhog spotted in Stockton Springs

Mother Nature is full of surprises, and it’s not uncommon to see wild critters that just don’t seem to look like their peers.

This white groundhog stopped by to visit a home in Stockton Springs recently. (Judy Wing photo)

This white groundhog stopped by to visit a home in Stockton Springs recently. (Judy Wing photo)

That was the case recently, as Lynn Nickerson of Stockton Springs saw an animal waddling around near her house. Her friend snapped some photos, Nickerson sent them to me, and asked the obvious question: “I think this is a white groundhog. What do you think?”

I forwarded the photos to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, where wildlife biologist Kendall Marden took a look.

His assessment? Nickerson was correct in her identification.

“Definitely a ‘whistle-pig,’ or groundhog,” Marden wrote in a return email.

A white groundhog in Stockton Springs. (Judy Wing photo)

A white groundhog in Stockton Springs. (Judy Wing photo)

In a phone interview, Marden explained that individual animals of many species, including groundhogs, can be leucistic, or white in color.

“It’s a lack of pigmentation,” Marden explained. “We see a wide variety of that being displayed [in animals] over time. Sometimes they’re all white and have pigmentation, of sorts, in their eyes and their toenails.”

The groundhog in Nickerson’s pictures does have some pigmentation — in truly albino animals, the eyes will also be pink. This groundhog seems to have brown eyes.

Marden said the opposite condition — too much pigmentation — also crops up.

“The other condition that happens quite frequently [in a variety of species] is a black pigmentation, a melanistic phase,” he said. “[The animal] will be all black. That melanistic factor occurs much more often in squirrels.”

Marden said that while the more rare coloration of leucistic animals is interesting, it can make life more challenging for them.

“Especially with a small mammal or something like a partridge, which depends on its camouflage, it puts them at a much higher risk of predation,” Marden said. “They kind of stick out like a sore thumb. It’s tough to make a living.”

John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.