A couple in Pennsylvania trapped a purple squirrel on Sunday, Feb. 5, but experts aren’t certain what’s behind the critter’s colorful coat.
Percy and Connie Emert of Jersey Shore, Pa., caught the brightly colored rodent when trying to keep squirrels away from their bird feeders. Connie said she had seen the animal on her property before but no one believed her.
"I kept telling my husband I saw a purple one out in the yard. 'Oh sure you did' he kept telling me. Well, he checked the trap around noon on Sunday and sure enough, there it was,” she told Accuweather.com.
The Emerts kept the squirrel in a large cage for a couple of days, feeding him peanuts, but they released him back into the wild on Tuesday. They say they have no idea why the animal is bright purple.
Accuweather Senior Meteorologist Henry Margusity said that the squirrel could have fallen into a Porta-potty. Dan Kottlowski, also an Accuweather meteorologist, has another suggestion. "Squirrels get into all kinds of stuff. He could have gotten into some purple ink or purple paint at some point."
Ink from toner cartridges was the theory behind a purple squirrel named Pete that was seen in the U.K. in 2008. However, the Pennsylvania squirrel’s uniform color seems to rule out ink as the cause.
Kris Pillai, a professor at Pennsylvania’s Lock Haven University said that the animal’s coloration could be caused by bromide. "This is not good at all. That color looks very much like Tyrian purple. It is a natural organobromide compound seen in molluscs and rarely found in land animals. The squirrel (possibly) has too much bromide in its system."
Bromine occurs naturally in seawater and is mostly harmless, but when combined with chlorine, it can form dangerous compounds called brominated trihalomethanes, which have been linked to cancer and birth defects.
High levels of chlorine and bromine have been recorded in wastewater created by hydraulic fracturing, the process of pumping chemical-laced water into shale rock deep below ground to release natural gas. Hydraulic fracturing is practiced throughout Pennsylvania.
Fans of the squirrel on Facebook have made other suggestions for the critter’s curious coloration, ranging “Someone from PETA threw paint on it” to “Maybe he’s a Minnesota Vikings fan.”
The purple squirrel has amassed more than 3,500 Facebook fans and has almost 400 Twitter followers.
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