Jessica Crabtree

The lure of albinos

by on May.07, 2012, under JOURNAL: Nature, art, cultural perspectives

Albino horseAlbinism is an inherited mutation that causes a lack (albinoid) or absence (albino) of melanin, the primary skin pigment.
(Image: Canaille Blog)

There are several drawbacks for an animal born with albinism. For most, it strips away their camouflage ability, since creatures of a brilliant white will stand out in almost any setting. Because of the lack of protective pigments in the skin, they are more prone to sun damage. Many of them also experience congenital eye conditions that accompany the trait. Without pigmentation, the blood cells beneath the skin and tissues are visible, making the eyes of albinos often appear pink or red.

Leucism is a type of albinism that affects the skin and hair or feathers, but does not affect the eyes.

Wikipedia: Leucism

Certain species of otherwise normally colored animals have genetic subspecies that are mostly or entirely white.

White tiger
White bengal tiger: Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-3.0) by Averette

The mesmerizing beauty and mystery of these “ghost animals” have made them revered in many cultures since prehistoric times. They are often seen as divine messengers and it is taboo to harm them (such as the white buffalo of the Plains Indians). In modern times, this fascination has turned against them, making them popular in captive exhibits and the hides and other remains prized specimens for hunters and collectors. Albino and leucistic animals are now protected by law in many parts of the world.

National Geographic – Weird & Wild Pictures: Albino Animals Revealed

white peacock

Melanism is the exact opposite condition; it’s the result of overproduction of pigments. Usually this is manifested in the phantom “black animals” that appear from time to time in a population. Unlike albinos, darker animals have an almost universal survival advantage (unless they live in the Arctic, for example) because it is easier for them to blend in with their surroundings.

Wikipedia: Melanism

Melanism in a gene pool can quickly become a dominant trait – as in the case of the Yellowstone wolves. (NATURE: In the Valley of the Wolves)


TALKBACK: What’s your favorite albino animal?

  • Big cats
  • Peafowl
  • Horses
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2 Comments for this entry

  • Diane

    I usually like the looks of the white tigers…but the horse you have on this page is absolutely beautiful. The mane, tail,etc. set this horse apart from the usual white horse one sees.

    • jessica

      Me too! I love the big white cats, especially the Bengal tigers – but I thought this horse was fantastic. I’m curious to see what favorites other people have. Thanks for commenting!

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About Me

I am a freelance artist living in Arkansas, US, specializing in historical portraits of American Indians. I blog about the portrayal and influence of Native Americans in art, history, and the media.

I am fascinated by history and world cultures, ancient and modern, and particularly indigenous peoples. My other interests include wildlife ecology, environmental issues & sustainability, journalism, photography, web design & development. I enjoy music and reading (see my book list here).

You can see some of my pastel work, and my drawings in charcoal and graphite, by visiting my online Gallery.