JERSEY SHORE - Sunday afternoon, Connie and Jim Emert caught one of the strangest animals they had ever seen in the backyard of their Jersey Shore home; a purple squirrel.
"It's one of the oddest things I've ever seen, that's for sure," Connie Emert said on Tuesday. "My husband just didn't believe me when I told him there was a purple squirrel out there, until he saw it in the trap."
The Emerts, who have several bird feeders in their backyard, regularly catch squirrels in live animal traps near the bird feeders, then let the squirrels go in a nearby corn field.
Jim and Connie Emert, of Jersey Shore, found this purple squirrel in their trap behind their home. The catch and release the animals in a nearby corn field to keep them away from their bird feeders.
"Jim catches them in his traps all the time," Emert explained. "They get up and try to steal the seeds from the feeders. We've probably caught about 50 this year alone."
Several people have seen the squirrel, and though theories have been offered, nobody is sure what could have caused his odd coloring. Most don't believe that pictures of the squirrel aren't edited somehow.
"When my friends saw it, they just couldn't believe it. Nobody can imagine that this little squirrel is bright purple until they see it in person," Emert said.
The squirrel, which Emert said will be released back in the wild sometime this week, appears to be a normal grey squirrel with a lavender tint to its coat.
"We wonder if he didn't get into something and dye his coat somehow," Emert said. "A friend of ours said that they put a chemical into the water at golf courses that's purple and thought maybe he'd gotten into that, but nobody really knows for sure."
According to the Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper, a similarly colored purple squirrel was found in 2008 at the Meoncross School in Stubbington, Hants, England. Similar explanations for that squirrel were presented, but no concrete answers were found. The students and teachers at the school agreed that their squirrel, whom they named Pete, seemed to be a regular grey squirrel that had fallen into dye or ink, rather than a genetic mutation.
Harold Cole, wildlife conservation officer with the state Game Commission, wasn't sure what could make a squirrel's coat turn purple either.
"I think it has to be something other than natural causes," he said.
"Animals with coats have phases, such as black deer or albino deer, but purple is not part of the natural spectrum of fur," Cole said.
He imagined, like others, that some type of dye, chemicals or even berries could be the reason for the odd-colored creature.
"Squirrels will get into just about anything," he said. "We'll probably never know exactly what the cause is."
Harvey Katz, a retired research aquatic biologist added, "I do know there are some types of dyes, they're called anthraquinone dye, that are very stable and used to be released into the water systems in the 60s and 70s."
Katz recalled a time when such a great quantity of anthraquinone dye was released near Tom's River, N.J., that it turned the local river purple.
He imagined it was possible if someone was using these types of dyes and releasing them into the water system that they could be the cause of the squirrel's odd coloring.