Loudon man spots albino chipmunk at home

  • Norman Laramee, 57, of Loudon took this photo of an albino chipmunk eating peanuts on a tree stump at his home this past weekend. Albinism, as the condition is called, is rare in nature and leads to lack of normal coloration coupled with red, pink or light blue eyes. Norman Laramee—Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 6/26/2018 3:28:47 PM

Norman “Chip” Laramee couldn’t believe what he saw in his yard this past weekend in Loudon – a little white critter scampering around his yard.

At first he thought it was a mouse, but it had a bushy tail. He got out his binoculars to get a closer look.

It turned out to be an albino chipmunk eating peanuts Laramee left on a tree stump.

The 57-year-old had never seen an albino animal before. He moved to Concord from Vermont last year and just moved to Loudon two weeks ago when he started renting on Bee Hole Road.

The chipmunk was eating some peanuts on a tree stump a little over 50 feet from the deck at his house when he first spotted it. He grabbed his binoculars, snapped a photo and after some online research, determined it was a chipmunk.

Laramee said he’s always had a feeder for birds, chipmunks and squirrels at his previous houses and plans to leave a few extra peanuts out for this special visitor.

When he first saw the chipmunk, he asked around if anyone had seen the small rodent before or if albino animals are common in New Hampshire. No, and no, he was told.

“I’ve seen him several times now,” Laramee said on Monday. “I just call him ‘Whitey.’ ”

Albinism, as the condition is called, starts at the genetic level. Genes regulate melanin production within organisms. Melanin is a broad term for dark pigments found in most living things that give color to hair, skin, eyes, fur, feathers and scales. The more melanin in one’s body, the darker the skin or fur will be.

Albinism is passed down genetically, which means it is not contagious and the parents must be carriers of the albino gene. Normal pigmentation genes are dominant, while albino genes are recessive, making albinism rare in nature.

“Only a small percentage of animals carry the recessive gene, so the chance of the pairing of recessive genes in an individual animal is slight,” according to the Missouri Conservationist magazine. One of this chipmunk’s parents must have been albino while the other carried the recessive trait, or both parents carried the recessive trait.

There are variations on albinism, like whether or not the animal is a “pure” or “partial” albino. The distinction comes with how much coloration, if any, exists on the animal. The true test is by looking at the eyes. Albino eyes are red, pink or a light blue.

In humans, albinism is even rarer, affecting about 1 in 20,000 people worldwide. There is no known cure for albinism.

There is some contention whether albinism decreases chances of survival in the wild. Humans have no problem telling an albino animal apart from its darkly colored counterpart, but a hawk from above might not make the same distinction.

The Conservationist wrote that hawks will look for shapes and movements typical of their prey, like chipmunks, instead of focusing on color. This would give an albino chipmunk and a non-albino chipmunk relatively the same chances of survival from a hungry hawk circling above.

Humans have long been fascinated by albino animals.

“Many (Native Americans), for example, considered white bison to be sources of immense power and good fortune. To do harm to them would bring misfortune,” according to the Conservationist. Animals that are legal to be bought and sold, like rodents, reptiles and birds, who are albino often run a higher price tag. Zoos proudly display albino animals in their exhibits all over the world.

(Jacob Dawson can be reached at 272-6414 ext. 8325, jdawson@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @jaked156.)

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