Albinism 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.
Certain species of otherwise normally colored animals have genetic subspecies that are mostly or entirely white.
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.
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.
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
My latest charcoal & graphite – see her on my Online Gallery. Source photo: public domain.
Belonging to an artistic family with unusual social and political views gave Rosa a huge advantage in pursuing her talents. Her father, an accomplished artist himself, quickly recognized the independent streak in the tempestuous young student that brought her formal education to an impasse. He used art as an outlet for her creative energy and curiosity, and trained her at home, since women were not admitted to formal art training.
Raymond Bonheur supervised the art training of all four of his children as each developed their own interests and careers. Eventually their home studio developed into a family business, with several members cooperating at once on a commission.
Rosa honed her artistic skills by copying the great paintings of the Louvre, and studying animal anatomy at farmyards, slaughterhouses and veterinary schools – in short hair and men’s clothes, to boot. This was unthinkable for a girl of that time. But the knowledge acquired by first-hand observation resulted in the fine detail and realistic accuracy of her animal portraits, and also led to her noted accomplishments in the field of sculpture.
In 1841, at the age of 19, Rosa had the first of many exhibitions at the Paris Salon, winning numerous awards that led to her first state commission, the well-known Plowing in the Nivernais.
The Horse Fair, which she exhibited at the Salon in 1853, is considered her career masterpiece. Measuring 8 feet by 16 feet, the huge work is more a mural than a painting.
This is one viral video I don’t mind seeing.
Champis is a 5-year old rabbit on a farm in northern Sweden whose interesting skills have made it an internet sensation. Call it “Border-line personality” – this little fellow really believes it’s a collie.
What a delightful and refreshing piece (and a fine-looking farm!)
Charcoal and graphite 8×10. The original photo was from the old US Fish & Wildlife archives (public domain). See my Gallery…
This fantastic-sounding chimeric creature is a small mammal that most of us probably wouldn’t recognize: the musk deer. And you’d almost have to see it to believe that it really exists.
There are several species of musk deer in the Moschidae family, which used to be widely distributed in prehistoric times but today are found only in parts of Asia. Their name is a bit of a misnomer as they are not actually deer (who belong to the neighboring Cervidae family, and can be distinguished for instance by their horns). While these unusual animals may lack the jackalope’s signature antlers, their weird combination of features may make them the closest living thing to its mythical cousin.
Musk deer are shy herbivores who inhabit the remote woodlands of Asia’s high terrain. The males are highly valued for the potent scent they produce, a commodity that can bring enormous market value and has led to aggressive hunting and trapping, especially in China.
Interestingly, the musk deer resembles the oldest living species of deer, the Muntjac or “Barking Deer” of Eurasia. Muntjacs have small antlers in addition to tusk-like teeth. It is believed that these two species are remnants from a prehistoric population ancestral to both Moschids and Cervids.
So what of the infamous Jackalope?
Jackalopes – the cunning, antlered hare whose lore has been the bane of many a green tourist – is not just a specialty of the West. Similar “hybrid” creatures exist in the fables of countries around the world, most especially in Alpine regions. Like the winged Wolpertingers, Rasselbocks, and Skvaders of Germany and Scandinavia, they are an elusive but prized catch and a favorite folk spoof.
I am not sure if there were any Moschids indigenous to America’s West in prehistoric times – or if the “jackalope” is merely an import of European settlers – but it is interesting to note the overlap of habitats between the musk deer, muntjacs and the jackalope’s Eurasian cousins. Could it possibly hint to a stored cultural memory of a time when strange, small bounding mammals with horns and tusks were not quite so scarce?
Brown bear cub in snow, from Gary Lackie’s photostream on Flickr. Doesn’t look like the Alaskan cold bothers this little fellow a bit, does it?