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Feb 10 2012

Mystery of the severely purple squirrel

Yes, that’s really a squirrel and its really, severely, purple. No one seems to know why, could be a hoax, or something else. Put on your skeptic hats and offer some ideas.

(Link) — “I kept telling my husband I saw a purple one out in the yard. ‘Oh sure you did’ he kept telling me,” said Emert. “Well, he checked the trap around noon on Sunday and sure enough, there it was.” AccuWeather.com Expert Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski has a different idea. “Squirrels get into all kinds of stuff. He could have gotten into some purple ink or purple paint at some point.”
Purple ink was the theory when people saw a purple squirrel called Pete in the U.K. in 2008. There were no theories when another purple squirrel was spotted in 1997. John Griffin, Director of Humane Wildlife Services for the Humane Society, said “It might be possible that there was some introduction of a product into the nesting material that imparted this color to the fur, or accidental immersion/contact with a dying or coloring compound during (its) lifetime.” He also said “The color (of the squirrel) does not appear to be even which would make me think that it is likely to be the natural color of the fur.”

I asked a friend of mine who is a cosmotologist and specializes in hair color about his. She said, at least in people, ink or paint or purple dye by itself wouldn’t turn darkish squirrely hair that shade of purple. Brown hair would need to have, and I quote, “the shit bleached out of it first” and then the purple dye applied (It might work with dye alone for people with very light blonde hair, she added). No idea if that applies to rodentia, but it seems reasonable considering we’re both mammals.

I have an inkling of an idea how that might have happened. If I had to guess, I’d go with kids trapping the critter and doing exactly that. Second guess would a business like a hair salon or cleaning company nearby, or better yet think of the most common products in a dumpster that could cause this:¬†where the animal got into a product containing bleach followed by ink, maybe some kind of printer cartridge or paint?

12 comments

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  1. 1
    timberwoof

    I want to see it photographed next to a Kodak or other standard color chart and some other squirrels.

  2. 2
    Shawn Smith

    What we have here (in the linked story) is a few pictures of a purple squirrel. Gimp (or Photoshop) can create these, when they start with pictures of regular squirrels. So, is it more likely that a local couple wanted to get their name in a news report and faked a few photos, or that there is actually a squirrel with purple fur? I don’t know. It might be interesting to find out if it’s true, and if so, what could have caused it.

  3. 3
    ogremk5

    I’m not sure I buy those explanations. They seem like they are awfully contrived.

    From the clip, it sounds like it’s happened at least three times in widely different locations.

    I could buy the kids but bleaching hair like that isn’t an easy or even painless process. The only way I’d even want to try a full body bleach would be on an unconscious squirrel. Those suckers have teeth and claws.

    Looking at the other pics, I’m tempted to think dye job, even the nose and teeth look purple.

  4. 4
    billygnoh

    I would guess that its a camera trick with a bit of Photoshop work. I have some squirrel pictures that i took myself that have a purple tint to them, but the actual squirrels had completely normal coloring. Photoshop would be able to enhance a slight tint into that amount of color.

    It is also suspicious that there are no videos of the squirrel. They just have still shots. I believe most, if not all, modern digital cameras have a video feature.

  5. 5
    cristopherallen

    um…Photoshop until proven innocent

  6. 6
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Oh, come on. Hair sample + microscope = answer. If really necessary, some simple chemical tests. But of course, the squirrel was captured just to prove that someone did see a purple squirrel, then released. Don’t take it to a flippin’ veterinarian or anything.

  7. 7
    llewelly

    Yet another reporter unfamiliar with the wonders of image manipulation. If you look closely, you can see other, non-squirrel things in the photo which are tinted purple.

  8. 8
    den1s

    if it isn’t photoshopped, then I’m going with a stash of purple kool-aid that might be scattered around his nest; or he eats the kool-aid then cleans himself depositing the dye on his fur. I don’t think it’s a purple squirrel/tree rat.

  9. 9
    jamessweet

    What if it was black ink/dye that had faded over time?

  10. 10
    Nice Ogress

    As a professional illustrator, I agree with the concensus that the image above’s been photomanipulated. Photoshop’s saturation and hue sliders will duplicate that color effect pretty much exactly.

    That said, there’s an even simpler explanation for any ‘free-range’ purple squirrels you may see out in the wild: diet. Walnut husks exude a natural dye in water that’s a purplish black. Around my neighborhood, all the squirrels get black muzzles and spots from not only chewing through the husks, but drinking puddle water in which discarded husks have been seeping. They are not ‘black-nosed squirrels’ or ‘spotted squirrels’, they are plain old grey squirrels who get black noses for three months out of the year, when they’re gorging on walnut trees.

    Kool-aid and hair dye and printer ink and all of that isn’t necessary. There are PLENTY of natural objects in a squirrel’s diet that can stain their fur, and it will vary from region to region and season to season what they have access to.

  11. 11
    den1s

    quite so on the walnut husks; good call.

  12. 12
    jhalpert1972

    My cat’s belly has varied from brown to purple-ish to pink depending on the type of food I’m buying. Whether PhotoShopped or not, it’s entirely possible that the squirrel’s fur is purple due to diet.

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