Dorothy is a Master Gardener, former newspaper reporter, and the author of several books. Michael is a landscape/nature photographer in NM.
Inability to Camouflage is Problematic in Nature
There are several basic animal behaviors and abilities that allow them to survive in the wild, but none any more crucial than their ability to become camouflaged. Camouflage, however, is not easy for animals that have either albinism or leucism, so they normally don't live very long out in Mother Nature's territory.
Animals often remain in areas away from white backgrounds where they would stand out to predators, and prefer to remain in areas where they easily blend in with the environment, going (hopefully) unnoticed. Unfortunately, the trick of camouflage is one also used by predators, in an effort to sneak up on unsuspecting prey.
The Difference Between Albino and Leucistic Animals
Many people confuse albinism with leucism in animals, but each condition has its own unique characteristics.
Albinism is a congenital defect where the result is a complete lack of melanin, which is needed in order for the skin, feather, eyes and hair of an animal to have color. As a result, the affected animals are almost always completely white with pink-looking eyes (the red of the retina is actually visible through the iris in the eye).
If an animal is completely white but has normal-looking eyes, this is the universal type of leucism. Animals that have leucism, which is a genetic disorder, sometimes only have a partial loss of the pigmentation and display splotchy areas of white on their bodies, known as the "pied" or "piebald" effect. Not all of their cells develop properly and the affected animal is incapable of producing pigments in all areas of their bodies, except in their eyes, which appear to be normal.
Albino Alligators in Captivity
Because albino animals lack melanosomes (clusters of melanin) - necessary to allow beneficial rays to enter while blocking the harmful rays of the sun - facilities provide special accommodations for them.
The Knoxville (Tennessee) Zoo, for example has created heavily shaded habitats with special heat lamps for their albino alligators, which have delicate skin that can easily be sunburned, causing them to become ill. These animals thrive in captivity because of the special care they are given.
The impressive Newport (Kentucky) Aquarium also is home to two very rare albino alligators, which they hope will eventually mate. Apparently, there are only about a dozen or so albino alligators in the world.
A leucistic white alligator can be seen in the River Journey Building at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. According to Dave Collins, curator of forests for the facility (quote taken from the aquarium's website): “The occurence of white alligators, both leucistic and albino, is extremely rare. White hatchlings normally only survive a few days in the wild as their coloration makes them highly susceptible to predation and possible damage from sunlight.”
Gatorland in Orlando, Florida has a leucistic alligator that is all white except for his eyes, which are blue.
Albino Crocodile and Leucistic Alligator
Photographer/Conservationist Builds Shelter for Albino Squirrel
You can read about photographer Victor Manuel Fleites Escobar and how he built a shelter south of England for the rare albino squirrel pictured below by clicking here.
The Albino Squirrel Preservation Society
Two students at the University of Texas at Austin, Dustin Ballard and Gary Chang, started the Albino Squirrel Preservation Society (ASPS) in 2001 to celebrate a longstanding legend at the college that seeing an albino squirrel before a test was good luck.
The group was also formed because of their recognition of the dwindling population of the beautiful white squirrels on the campus. The campus squirrels, although not in captivity, are fed and watched closely by the students there, which provides them as much protection from predators as is possible.
When word of the organization began to spread, several other colleges across the United States and the world started forming their own chapters.
To read more about how to start your own chapter of ASPS and see photos of some of the University of Texas campus squirrels, check out their website here: http://www.albinosquirrel.com.
Owls Depend on Camouflage in the Wild
Moby Dick: Albino Whale, or Leucistic?
Herman Melville's classic tale of Moby Dick was likely based on a story that he had read by Jeremiah N. Reynolds (1799-1858): Mocha Dick: Or the White Whale of the Pacific: A Leaf from a Manuscript Journal, of the Pacific, a tale that the author was said to have heard during his travels.
The fictional story of Moby Dick was written long before the world wide web made people aware of the differences between albinism and leucism in animals, so I guess we will never know which one applied to the sperm whale that killed everyone in the book except for the narrator.
A Poll for Readers
© 2017 Mike and Dorothy McKenney