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.
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.
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.”