One of the explanations being floated for the purple squirrel recently captured in Pennsylvania: An organobromide overdose caused by fracking. Yeah, it sounds a little far-fetched, but doesn’t it sound more interesting than “it fell in a port-a-potty”?
AccuWeather quotes Krish Pillai, a professor at Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, postulating that a bromine compound caused the unusual color:
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.
Man, I used to work really hard to get my hair this color. Are you telling me I could have just been ingesting organobromides all this time?
Tyrian purple dye is an organobromide compound, that much is true — but having a dye-related compound in your system doesn’t necessarily make you turn that color. And NPR points out that Pillai isn’t a biology professor or anything; he’s a computer engineer. Still, it’s interesting! Fracking could have introduced bromide into the groundwater, and the groundwater could have introduced bromide into the squirrel.
Apparently this isn’t the first purple squirrel, though — the earlier specimen was found in 2008 in southern England (in an area that does have some extraction operations, and I can’t believe how much research I just bothered to do to determine that). At least, that’s true if you believe the Daily Mail. Personally, the very fact that a purple squirrel appeared in the Daily Mail four years ago makes me think this one is a hoax; that’s how far the Daily Mail‘s halo of unbelievability extends.
Jess Zimmerman is the editor of Grist List.