Nature’s Little Mysteries

Featured photo by Ashleigh Aguilar

Article by Jennifer Howard

A squirrel is a squirrel, a chipmunk is a chipmunk, a chickadee is a chickadee. Right! Wrong!  Once in a while, we get something different.

We got a little red squirrel who was black. Came in with its little red sibling. It is a melanistic red squirrel. And it is so beautiful.

Melanism is a condition that turns animals and birds black. Caused by an over development of melanin. This can turn an animal fully or partially black. Melanism is fairly rare and truly beautiful.

Colour Pigmentation Mutations (7)
Chipmunk with albino characteristics. Photo by Jennifer Howard.

Then we have albinism or albino, white with red eyes. This condition results from a genetic mutation that actually interferes with the animals producing melanin.

And leucism that turns animals or birds partially white.

Colour Pigmentation Mutations (18)
Leucistic chickadee showing white markings. Photo by Jennifer Howard.

Leucistic shows up as irregular white patches or white feathers in birds and white patches on the head for example. Caused by defects in pigment cells caused during development in utero. This is also referred to as pied or piebald. However, unlike albinism where animals have red eyes, leucistic animals’ eye colour is not affected and eye colours are normal. One theory on how this happens is as follows.

Firstly it can happen in all animals, wild, pets and farm animals. But we don’t see it as often in wildlife. Although it’s certainly out there. It is said to be caused by a mutated Kit gene. In the womb, this gene slows down the movement of the pigment cells. Cells are produced at the back of the embryo, they then move forward through the whole animal until they get to the front. The kit gene slows down that process so that not all parts of the embryo are touched. Leaving the newborn with a white belly, most likely the head and possibly other parts white as well. As with our little piebald squirrel. She is gorgeous. That however is only one of a few theories out there.


We all see black squirrels out there running all over gathering nuts and exploring. These are all actually Eastern Grey Squirrels. And are classed as melanistic. I don’t know about you but I love the grey squirrels and their huge bushy tails. Adorable.

Albino raccoon. Source of photo: Procyon Wildlife
Photo by Jennifer Howard

“Apparently if you see a white or blond squirrel it is good luck. Change is coming and peace.” Just an interesting little tidbit.

We have had a few of these treasures and mysteries of Mother Nature at Procyon. All of us are in awe of their beauty.

We have a young squirrel with a white tummy, one full white foot, the other foot the toes tips are white, and the tip of tail, cute as a button at the centre right now. This would be a piebald squirrel.

We had an albino raccoon years ago. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it. That condition can sometimes cause underlying medical conditions, unfortunately. One just never knows what you will see out there or what someone will bring you that they have found.


Photos by Jennifer Howard of a piebald squirrel currently in our care at the Centre.

Melanistic Red Squirrel. Photo by Procyon volunteer Ashleigh Aguilar
Melanistic Red Squirrel. Photo by Procyon volunteer Tara Shepherdson

Life is full of mysteries and sometimes they need help from wildlife rehabilitation centres. They are no different and not freaks of nature.

Foxes can be melanistic (black). They are not a silver fox but just a different morph in colour and are magnificent with that beautiful white tip on their tail. I photographed a dark grey fox kit near my home years ago, it seemed to be more dominant than the others, a bit larger and more adventurous. Last year we had a totally blond fox kit. Just stunning and again very adventurous.

We all know about the spirit bears in BC, the albino moose and black fawns rarely seen but seen nonetheless by a few lucky people.

If one sits patiently in the forest or by a wetland, one never knows what may come along your path. Watch quietly, respect and keep it to yourself. This will ensure the animal doesn’t become a target of harassment. Horrible but true. Just enjoy and consider yourself extremely lucky. By all means, share your experiences but never ever give out any locations. This should stay between you and the animal you saw.



Now for some animal news from Procyon.

Billy is alert and recovering from her surgery. Photo by Jennifer Howard
Billy is inspecting her incision. Her wounds are healing nicely. Note her paws are wrapped to prevent her from damaging her stitches. Photo by Animal Care Coordinator and Director
Crystal Faye

We had a young raccoon come in mid-September who had been attacked by a dog. Her name is Billy. She had to undergo emergency abdominal surgery at the National Wildlife Centre by Dr. Nelissa. Another huge thank you for being there for us. She had sores all over her feet and had developed a hernia which was a result of the dogs’ attack. She underwent a 3-hour emergency abdominal surgery. A week later I met Billy. She is playing, eating, taking her meds okay, and loves bananas. She is cute as can be. Her front feet were wrapped to keep her from bothering her many stitches and help her wounds. But she had other ideas on that. Raccoons are very clever with their hands. She has been very good. Has been given lots of enrichment to keep her busy. The wounds all look good. She should make a full recovery. A very lucky little girl.

It doesn’t matter what comes through our door, whether big or teeny tiny. We do our very best to our ability to make them better, to give them a second chance. To reunite them back to the wild. To their homes and families. This is what wildlife rehabilitation centres are about.

Soon our last red fox at the centre ( for now ) will be going home to be released back into the wild to be with her family again. Be free. Adele who is #16 is ready to go. She has been a wonderful patient. She was caught on September 3rd. Face so bad her eyes were swollen shut with mange. Her legs and tail were affected. She couldn’t see us, she was scared and didn’t know what was going on.  In only a few days after her 1st dose of medication and flushing of her eyes, Adele could start to see us. A few days later we could see the sweetest little fox face transforming. There are no words to describe how we feel at these moments. To date, I have worked hard putting my all into capturing 16 red foxes with various cases of mange. From mild to severe. All have gone free with little Adele to go next. What a year. What a beautiful little girl.

This year to date we have admitted 1310 animals to Procyon Wildlife. Way to go team. Small but mighty. Releases have been in full swing. Watch our website for those precious updates.

Olivia, a generous contributor to Procyon.

Before closing. I would like to give a shout-out to a young girl who is local to Procyon, who raised money for Procyon’s animals by selling maple syrup. She raised $200.00. Her name is Olivia. Olivia is 10 years old.  Crystal and l met Olivia and her mother Melissa on September 22nd when they brought us a big bag full of paper towels ( much needed ) and stuffed toys for our babies. Olivia’s dream is to become a veterinarian when she grows up. A personal word to Olivia from me.

Go for your dream young lady. You will be amazing at it.

Before they left Olivia and her mom asked what more can kids do to help us out. Because of the age being 18 for becoming a volunteer with us, it doesn’t mean you can’t help. You can. We have a lot of squirrels overwintering with us this year. So the following are things you can go out and collect for them.

  • Maple tree keys.
  • Acorns.
  • Black walnuts.
  • Apples.
  • Pine cones especially the small ones but any size will do.
  • Leftover small pumpkins.

So many things you can collect for our animals. Let us know and we will arrange a time for you to drop them off. After all, if they were out there they would be gathering all those things from our trees so that they can get ready for the hard winter months ahead.

Job well done.

Until next time, enjoy the beautiful fall colours that are about to embark on us. And get out there.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, from all of us at Procyon, including our wildlife friends still in our care.

Jen Howard

Procyon volunteer / Photographer

Help Is In Your Hands… it’s in ALL our HANDS!

Enjoy this gallery of photos by Jennifer Howard showing examples of albinistic, melanistic and leucistic animals.

Nature’s Little Mysteries
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