Late last year (on December 22nd) the British newspapers told the story of Pete, a purple-coated Grey squirrel Sciurus carolinensis photographed in the grounds of Meoncross School, Stubbington (Hampshire, UK). Why a Grey squirrel should have a purple coat is, of course, the big mystery.
One suggestion is that Pete might have found purple ink cartridges in the bin and somehow groomed the ink into his fur. I suppose that’s possible, but it sounds pretty unlikely. Local naturalist Chris Packham has been quoted as suggesting that Pete fell into a bucket ‘containing a weak colour solution’. Purple-coated mammals have been seen before, but admittedly in zoos: I’m thinking of the captive Polar bear Ursus maritimus at Mendoza Zoo that was turned deep purple by a treatment for dermatitis. We also know that there are algae that sometimes turn fur green, but – with the exception of sloths – this has (to my knowledge) only been reported in captive animals (polar bears again). Anyway, these algae – obviously – make the animals green, not purple.
I have one last idea: this is that Pete was deliberately dyed by someone for use in a study. In order to keep track of animals (usually seabirds) in the field, biologists sometimes dye the animal, often in purples or other unnatural-looking colours. These dyes are temporary and harmless. I’ve never heard of anyone needing to dye a Grey squirrel (if someone was trying to keep track of one, you’d think that they’d apply a radio-tag or microchip), and another flaw with this idea is that – given the massive media coverage – you’d expect the biologist concerned to come forward immediately.
Any better ideas? As you might have guessed, I’m mostly running this (by now) old story because it gives me the chance to use some amusing pictures.
Unusually coloured Grey squirrels have been covered on Tet Zoo before: see The mysterious tree-creature revealed. And for other squirreley articles see Biggest squirrel ever and (from ver 1) That’s no mystery carnivore.
Coming next: boobies, boobies, boobies!