Squirrels have always held a special place in the hearts of Princeton students, but they may be getting some competition in terms of interesting animal life on campus.
A rare albino groundhog has been spotted on Poe Field near the softball diamond. The animal was sighted eating grass on the field before running beneath a shed.
“It was digging for something. I have seen raccoons, but this is the first groundhog I’ve seen,” Ray Hu ’20 said. “I was really surprised that it was white because I’ve never seen an albino animal before.”
Although the groundhog typically has a reddish brown outer coat and an undercoat of dense gray fur, the animal seen on Poe Field had the white hair and pink eyes characteristic of albinism, a genetic condition defined by the absence of pigmentation.
Little is known about the frequency of albinism in groundhogs, but the condition is rare in any species — in North America, it occurs once in every 20,000 human births.
New Jersey has numerous kinds of wildlife, including the most white-tailed deer per square mile in North America. Groundhogs are common in suburban areas. Just this summer, a black bear was spotted in the town of Princeton.
“I suspected it could be a pet, but then I realized it was more likely wild,” Taylor Mills ’20 said.
Although the sight was unexpected according to students, there is evidence that albino groundhogs have been present in the Princeton area. On September 8, 2016, Reddit user Johnthemox posted a photo of an albino groundhog with the caption “Saw an albino groundhog while working in Princeton today.” This photograph appears to show the same groundhog that was spotted on campus almost exactly a year later. Groundhogs typically live around two to three years in the wild, although “Wiarton Willie,” another albino groundhog who lived in the Canadian community of Wiarton, lived to the age of twenty-two.
Wiarton Willie became a celebrity groundhog because of the role he played in the Wiarton Willie Festival: If Willie saw his shadow, Canadians could expect six more weeks of winter, but an early spring was forecasted if Willie didn’t see his shadow. According to the Wiarton Willie website, Willie is “the only albino weather prognosticator in the world.”
Whether or not the albino groundhog seen on campus can predict the weather is yet to be seen.