Percy and Connie Emert were so frustrated by rodents infesting their garden and eating the food they put out for birds that they set up a trap to stop them.
But what they found there was far more exotic than any of the avian species that usually live in the back yard.
The Emerts discovered that their garden was playing host to a bright purple squirrel.
In the recruitment business, a ‘purple squirrel’ refers to someone whose skills are so varied that he fits all aspects of a job description perfectly.
The name ‘purple squirrel’ comes from the assumption that such a person is non-existent – but the rodent in the Emerts’ Pennsylvania garden is the third real-life purple squirrel on record.
Mrs Emert explained to AccuWeather.com how she first came across the unusual discovery: ‘We have bird feeders out in our yard, and the squirrels are constantly into them.
‘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.’
After photographing the squirrel and inviting neighbours round to their house in Jersey Shore to have a look, they released the animal back into the wild.
Experts have so far been unable to determine why the squirrel was such a bizarre colour.
While squirrel fur can be a variety of colours – red, grey, black, brown, or even white in the case of albino animals – there are no known cases of squirrels being naturally purple.
The most obvious assumption is that this animal was dyed, though it is unclear how this could have happened unless someone deliberately coloured it.
If the squirrel had fallen in to a pool of paint or chemicals, it would probably not have survived, but the colouring appears too even for it to be the result of only a partial spraying.
Squirrel enthusiast Erik Stewart told AccuWeather: ‘If it has white hair on it at all, it probably not dyed.’
Krish Pillai, a professor at Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, had a more sinister explanation for the colour of the squirrel’s coat.
Pointing out that the animal seemed to be coloured ‘Tyrian purple’, an organobromine compound usually found in molluscs, he said the situation was ‘not good at all’ and suggested that the squirrel had ‘too much bromide in its system’.
But this doom-laden diagnosis has not put off the squirrel’s burgeoning army of online supporters – including nearly 3,000 Facebook fans and over 200 followers on Twitter.
Even Snooki, from Jersey Shore (the reality TV series, not the town where the squirrel was found), got in on the action, tweeting ‘omg I want!’ in response to the news.