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White squirrel, not albino, discovered in Norcross

NORCROSS - After an unusual bushy-tailed, white squirrel made an appearance in Thrasher Park two weeks ago, Norcross posted a photo of it on its Web site, claiming the city was home to a rare albino squirrel.

It turns out, however, the squirrel in question is actually a common form of the Eastern Gray squirrel known as a white squirrel.

The rare sightings of this type of squirrel may be attributed to its lifespan.

"It's uncommon for them to last long," said Art Rilling, manager of Yellow River Game Ranch in Lilburn.

Game ranch employees are familiar with white squirrels after they kept one a few years. But, Rilling said the white squirrel is not quite what it appears to be.

White squirrels are a special breed of the Eastern Gray squirrel whose fur appears white because of a mutation of the melanin gene.

Rilling said there are other forms of the gray squirrel, too. One, found mostly in Texas, has reddish fur.

A true albino squirrel, though, is very rare. Its strange features, such as red or blue eyes and apparent white fur, occur because it doesn't have the necessary gene to produce pigment.

"Albino is a freak thing," Rilling said.

But these weird breeds have not gone without notice. Several cities have laid claim to having the largest population of albino or white squirrels.

Olney, Ill., dubbed itself the "home of white squirrels" and preserves its moniker by holding squirrel counts annually.

Brevard, N.C., is home of the White Squirrel Research Institute at Brevard College, which studies the hundreds of white squirrels that roam the area. The city just held its fourth annual White Squirrel Festival in May. The event featured a box derby, a pageant and a white squirrel walking tour.

Norcross may not be honoring its squirrel with a full-scale celebration anytime soon, but one resident has written a song naming the now famous Norcross white squirrel.

An unnamed resident posted a song detailing the whereabouts of the elusive creature on the city's Web site discussion board: "As far as we know it's a family of three, jumping and playing in all our trees ... His nickname is NAS, for Norcross Albino Squirrel. If you don't like this name, try and give it a whirl."