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Tuesday, October 4, 2022
Home Current Affairs COLUMN: Lighter Side of Rye: Varmint Edition

COLUMN: Lighter Side of Rye: Varmint Edition

Does Rye have its own local version of Bigfoot? Guest columnist Lori Fontanes collects all the nuts for this story.

(PHOTO: Rye's own Bigfoot? The elusive white squirrel.)
(PHOTO: Rye’s own Bigfoot? The elusive white squirrel.)

By Lori Fontanes

I saw Bigfoot near Playland Parkway the other day. Okay, not actual Bigfoot but rather our local fluffy-tailed equivalent: the white squirrel. You may not even be aware that we have unusual fauna in our slice of the Sound Shore. Beaver, fox, eagle, even bear have been spotted but a ghost-like rodent? Well, turns out we do, they are and I’ve got the grainy iPhone pics to prove it!

My personal interest in the varmint goes way back to our first year in Rye when I breathlessly asked someone about the strange black squirrel I’d seen on our walk to school. They smiled at my newbie enthusiasm but explained that the super-melanistic variant of the family Sciuridae were all over the place. Having seen countless gray squirrels in my life (and I’m no spring chicken), I was charmed to make the acquaintance of a new stylish variety. According to White Squirrel Institute (yes, they’ve got a .org), black squirrels are “often found at higher latitudes and the dark color is thought to be involved in thermoregulation.” In other words, it keeps the splooting floofies warm in New York winters. Ah ha! Maybe that’s why the white-furred version emerged again! It’s a high-speed evolutionary response to a new normal of constant heatwaves or….not.

On deeper dive, I discovered that these still pretty rare mammals have been found in populations around the world. The squirrel organization’s website explains that there are basically two flavors: albino, where the coat is white and the eyes are pink or blue; or leucistic, where the coat is white but the eyes are dark. (Before you ask, no, I did not get close enough to see which type it was let alone get its autograph.) Regardless, I had never seen any in Rye and no one I knew had reported seeing one either. I’d read a story many years ago that described a colony of white squirrels in our vicinity, but had never met the elusive subject of that report.

Until August 5, 2022.

(PHOTO: Rye's own Bigfoot? The elusive white squirrel.)
(PHOTO: Rye’s own Bigfoot? The elusive white squirrel.)

When I finally crossed paths with our Westchester Yeti alternative, I couldn’t quite believe it. It was another crazy hot day and, like many critters, I’d decided to retreat to Rye Town Park and its beautiful shade trees. En route along Playland Parkway, a movement caught my eye. An actual white squirrel was scampering in the grass about 100 feet away. Was it, could it be, at last? Recovering from my initial shock and glee, I managed to grab a few photos before it turned tail on this bemused paparazza and scrambled up a tree. I haven’t seen it since.

While it’s true that these digital proofs are as grainy as a UFO Kodachrome, I swear that the snapshots are, in fact, 100% real. And although I can’t promise you’ll ever have the same luck I did, if you’re patient, maybe one day a white squirrel will cross your path or even show up at your winter bird feeder. Better yet, scientists recently posited that the long-necked inhabitant of Loch Ness may be descended from a plesiosaur after all. Can it be only a matter of time before we spot something on Playland Lake, too? Keep your eyes peeled and don’t forget to send us a pic!

Rye resident Lori Fontanes is a former humor columnist for Backyard Poultry Magazine among many other non-squirrel-related credits.


  1. Great article about white squirrels. We had some in our yard on North Street for years and have some photois if you are interested.


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