The day of reckoning for Tufts’ favorite furry icon has come. The campus’s unofficial mascot who scurried around the outskirts of Dewick Dining Hall for years — with its angelic white fur coat on display — is now gone from this Earth.
Yes, the rumors are true. The albino squirrel is dead.
Junior Jake Savage came across the legendary squirrel’s carcass lying under a tree in the grassy area behind Haskell Hall early in August. A devoted admirer of the squirrel, he was devastated to find its dead body.
“Anyone who had lived downhill saw it all the time. My friends and I called it ‘Moby.’ We loved that squirrel,” he said.
Savage was so moved by the death of the beloved furry animal that he resolved to keep the “albino” squirrel’s legacy alive with the help of his housemates. He wrapped the squirrel’s body in a bag, stuffed it into a shoebox and put it in his freezer. The body was in good shape, with no visible cuts or bruises, so Savage figured that he would get it stuffed. But there was one looming problem.
“It was going to cost $175 bucks to get it professionally taxidermied,” Savage said. “And we figured that was a ridiculous sum to pay for, you know, a squirrel.”
The squirrel’s body spent the next few weeks in Savage’s freezer, awaiting its fate. Savage decided to bring it up to the Loj in late August for Tufts Wilderness Orientation (TWO) leader training, and it was then that he decided on a suitable way to preserve Moby for free.
Savage approached junior Lily Glidden, who honed her animal-skinning skills on rabbits, beavers and muskrats as a member of a wilderness-training group based in Ithaca, N.Y., called Primitive Pursuits. Glidden agreed to skin the squirrel’s body so that it could be taxidermied at a later point.
“I decided to skin the squirrel on the porch,” Glidden said. “I was really careful to preserve the facial features. I wanted it to look nice. The skin was pretty thin, so it wasn’t so difficult.”
Glidden used her hunting knife to cut into the squirrel while Loj-goers stood around observing with various levels of intrigue and disgust.
“It was a little gruesome, and there were some [witnesses] that had to leave, but most of us were excited,” Glidden said.
Savage and his housemates are currently storing the squirrel skin as they decide what to do with the campus’s most popular pelt. Meanwhile, Tufts students are still mourning the tragic news of the squirrel’s death.
“I was horribly depressed when I heard,” sophomore Scott Sugarman said. “I lived uphill last year and never saw it! I feel like these things are rare gifts that the natural world gives us, and I missed out.”
But “albino” squirrel enthusiasts like Sugarman saw a beacon of hope last week when Glidden spotted yet another dead white squirrel, this time lying outside Anderson Hall. Unlike the original white squirrel, whose circumstances of death are shrouded in mystery, the “albino” squirrel Glidden found last week looked as though it suffered a more painful end.
“It’s not in the best shape, and the tail isn’t as furry,” Glidden said. “It probably had a tragic death and was hit by a car or attacked by a hawk.”
Glidden’s newest discovery — that the original “albino” squirrel is not the only one of its kind — sent shockwaves through the squirrel-loving community.
According to Assistant Professor of Biology Mitch McVey, though, the beloved “albino” squirrel is not albino at all. What makes these squirrels’ pelts white is a rare genetic mutation that changes the way the squirrel codes melanin, the chemical that generates pigment, he said. Tufts students’ labeling of the squirrel as albino is actually a misnomer, as these squirrels’ eyes are not red, indicating that, unlike albinos’, their irises are able to produce pigment.
The “albino” squirrel is actually a white squirrel with an albinism limited to its coat — a condition that is rare but not unheard of, according to McVey.
As of yet, there have been no reports of a third “albino” squirrel at Tufts, though students have noticed a black squirrel roaming around campus.
Glidden is currently storing the newest dead white squirrel in her freezer and is deciding whether to skin it before a live audience tonight during a Wilderness Survival Lecture co-sponsored by Tufts Mountain Club and Tufts Institute of the Environment that will be held in Braker 001 at 8 p.m.
“She’s quite the talented skinner, and given that she plans to skin it at some point, [tonight’s] lecture seems like an ideal time,” Savage said.