Image by sakdinon/iStock
Onya-Birri the albino koala
Onya-Birri the albino koala was born to two perfectly normal, gray koalas at the San Diego Zoo in 1997. His name comes from an Aboriginal (indigenous Australian) phrase meaning “ghost boy” after his white fur. Since he is a marsupial, Onya-Birri spent his first six months in his mother’s pouch.
When Onya-Birri popped his face out of mom’s pouch, the zoo staff were surprised by his white fur and pink nose. Albino koalas, like most albinos, are very rare, but they have been found in the wild before. Once out of the pouch, this little ghost boy had to learn how to live life as both a koala and an albino.
The Seneca White Deer
A whole herd of white deer lives at the Seneca Army Depot in New York. These white-tailed deer were trapped within the fence of the depot when it was built and as the years went on, they bred and their population grew. However, these deer aren’t true albinos, because they still have pigment in their eyes.
Albinos don’t produce melanin at all, which is the pigment that gives color to skin, eyes, hair, scales, and feathers. Albino eyes are either pink, light blue, or green because the red blood vessels are showing through or because of how light passes into the iris.
Snowflake the albino gorilla
Snowflake the albino Western lowland gorilla was only a youngster when he was found in the wild. He was given a home at the Barcelona Zoo, where he lived a full life of 40 years (normally gorillas live 30 to 40 years). But while he was a rare beauty to zoo visitors, his albinism was no happy accident.
Snowflake developed skin cancer, which albinos are particularly susceptible to because they don’t have melanoma protecting them from the sun’s UV radiation. Later, researchers analyzed Snowflake’s DNA and found that he was actually inbred, which is how he got two pairs of a rare and recessive albinism gene.
The leucistic peacock
Like the Seneca White Deer, this peacock is not albino, but does have a partial loss of pigment. This genetic condition makes it leucistic, which is more common than albinism but still pretty rare. Animals with leucism can be all white, or partially white, but they all have pigment in their eyes. This sets them apart from true albinos.
Peacocks use their elaborate and colorful feather train to attract mates, aka the surprisingly brown peahens. The females pick their suitors based on the length of the train, how many blue feather “eyes” it has, and the pattern’s symmetry. This peacock probably couldn’t get a mate due to his mostly white feathers.
Lucky the albino lobster
Lucky the lobster certainly looks like he’s jumped on the pastel unicorn trend, but his beautiful carapace is most likely due to albinism or leucism. While albinism is often a handicap, it actually saved Lucky’s life. A fisherman caught him in a net but spared him from the restaurant biz. Now, this unicorn of a lobster lives at a Canadian aquarium. (Two other lobsters are pictured below, not Lucky).
Lobsters are normally greenish-brown and only turn red once cooked because the heat breaks down certain proteins the red pigment is attached to. However, there are other colorful lobster variants: blue, orange, yellow, calico, and split-toned. Albinos are the rarest, with the odds of catching one at one in 100 million.
The wise white moose
White moose have been spotted across the world, in both North America and Europe. They appear to be wise old forest spirits moseying their way through grass, rivers, and trees. And as with any leucistic or albino animal, white moose are rare, but their population may be growing.
Where there are few natural predators, humans could be influencing the amount of white moose in the area. For instance, in Scandinavia, hunters spare the white moose and take the normal colored ones instead. Perhaps this will lead to white moose mating with each other more, spreading their recessive genes through the population.
The ghostly white giraffe
Giraffes live in scattered populations across Southern and Eastern Africa, but only a few white ones have ever been seen. Unfortunately, giraffe numbers are decreasing, because they face threats from habitat loss, illegal hunting, civil unrest, and climate change. Currently, giraffes are listed as vulnerable to extinction.
The human population in Africa is growing rapidly, putting immense pressure on the animals living there. Some of their habitats are turned into agricultural land, but some are simply degraded from mining and climate change. In areas where hunting giraffes is illegal, they’re doing better, but poaching is still a huge threat in some countries.
The golden-white zebra
This zebra is like a blondie to a normal zebra’s brownie — different, but still just as good. So what is she losing by not having the iconic black stripes? Well, contrary to what you probably learned in school, scientists aren’t sure why zebras have stripes.
There are several plausible explanations for the stripes’ function, including protection against insects, confusion for predators, and some sort of social interaction. However, researchers are pretty sure the stripes don’t help cool the zebras down, as some have hypothesized in the past. Recent research has suggested that zebra stripes help confuse flies, keeping them from landing on and biting the zebra.
The white Gentoo Penguin
Gentoo penguins are one of several penguin species that live in Antarctica, along with the Adelie and emperor penguins. Among many thousands of penguins, this little white penguin stands out starkly among its tuxedo-d peers. While the white feathers may be camouflage in the snow, they aren’t camo where it counts.
Penguins are black and white because the “countershading” is effective for blending in when underwater. This coloration is common in sharks, tuna, and other marine predators. The dark top is hard to see when someone looks down at them, while the lighter underside blends in with the light when looked at from above.
Pinky the albino dolphin of Lake Calcasieu
Swimming in the brackish Lake Calcasieu of Louisiana, Pinky the albino dolphin surprised onlookers with its abnormally pink skin. Pinky looks like just another fake internet animal or perhaps a tall tale from summer camp, but the dolphin has been living in the area for at least eight years.
Pinky gets its surprising pink skin from its albinism. Its cells don’t make the melanin pigment that would give it a normal gray color, so just the color of the dolphin’s blood vessels show through. Since albinism is genetic, Pinky’s parents both had the recessive gene for it and passed them on to Pinky.
The white kangaroos
While it’s tough to say if this white kangaroo is albino or not, it does seem that white kangaroos are popping up more and more in Australia. It’s possible that the 3,488-mile long dingo fence they installed is keeping white kangaroos safe from predators when normally their fur color would make them especially vulnerable.
Alternatively, the drought could be bringing kangaroos closer to human settlements, generally increasing the number of kangaroos people are seeing. The large marsupials live in social groups called mobs and one wildlife magazine editor saw a mob apparently protecting a white kangaroo in the group from danger.
The kooky kookaburra
The laughing kookaburra is normally brownish, with a light stomach and dark back, but this one is nearly pure white. These birds are well known for their call, which is a mix of chortles and chuckles and a shrieking laugh. They do it at dawn and dusk to tell everyone that this is their territory.
Kookaburras live in Australia, where they brave the dangerous insects, spiders, and snakes. In fact, they actually eat snakes that are up to three feet long. But when they’re not viciously banging a snake into the ground, kookaburras are snuggling up to their life-long mate.
Manukura the snow-white kiwi
Manukura looks like a little snowball that grew legs and a beak, but she is actually a kiwi, a bird native to New Zealand. She’s a resident at Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre, where she lives among other kiwis in their Kiwi House. She was one of three white chicks, but the other two were released into a reserve.
She had a little trouble at six months old when two stones got stuck in her gizzard. But vets were able to use lasers to break the rocks and Manukura recovered successfully. Birds eat stones to aid their digestion, but Manukura must have had eyes bigger than her stomach.
Claude the albino alligator
Claude the albino alligator warms himself on a heated rock at the California Academy of Sciences, where he’s lived for the last 10 years. On his fifteenth birthday, they threw him a party with cake, hats, and singing. But the now 23-year-old still has a lot of life left — he could live to be 80.
Unfortunately, besides the alligator snapping turtles and freshwater fish that live in the swamp exhibit with him, he may have to go without other alligators. For about a year, he lived with another gator named Bonnie, but she became impatient with Claude. His albinism gives him poor eyesight, so he kept bumping into things and she bit him on the leg.
The mythical white ravens of Vancouver Island
Several white ravens have hatched on Vancouver Island, Canada, where genetics are lining up just right to make these mystical birds. However, this isn’t the only place to have seen white ravens. There are many different tales and legends about them, from Greek mythology to Native American stories.
A common theme is that ravens were originally white, but then shenanigans ensue that turn ravens black forever. Of course, as we can see, ravens are not all black. The rare few ravens (and crows) are leucistic or albino. Some have white feathers mixed in with black while others are all white.
The spirit bears of the Great Bear Rainforest
Deep in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia live a group of walking oxymorons: the white black bears. Also known as Kermode bears or spirit bears, they aren’t polar or albino, but have a recessive mutation in the same gene that’s associated with redheaded humans. They’re surprisingly common in this area, with one white bear in every 40 to 100 black bears.
The indigenous people around the forest never hunted the white bears or talked about them to trappers, so now there are between 400 and 1,000 living in the cool rainforest. Plus, if you kill one, you could be fined up to $104,000.
Migaloo Jr. the white humpback whale
Migaloo Jr. the white humpback whale is believed to be the offspring of Migaloo, the first white humpback whale ever recorded. The two live off the east coast of Australia, but it’s unclear if they are albino or not. “Migaloo” is an Aboriginal word meaning “white man,” so it’s a pretty fitting moniker.
No one knows if Migaloo Jr. is actually related to Migaloo. He would have had to mate with either another white whale or a normal colored one carrying the same recessive gene. Even then, the offspring are not guaranteed to be white. Migaloo is distinctive from Migaloo Jr. because he has back scars from an old boat collision.
The albino ball pythons
Pythons are constrictor snakes, so they squeeze their prey to death by suffocating it, but that hasn’t stopped people from keeping them as pets. Normally dark brown with lighter brown splotches, ball pythons are often bred for abnormal coloration. When albino, their scales are white with yellow patterning.
Albino ball pythons are a popular pet, so breeders carefully select snakes for mating to keep the albinism visible. However, some albino ball pythons will lose their white coloring and become almost completely yellow. Since breeders discovered the albino ball python, they’ve made a variety of other color variations to sell as pets.
The albino crested porcupine
The largest porcupine in the world, the African crested porcupine lives in grassy and rocky areas in North and sub-Saharan Africa and Italy. When threatened, they raise their quills into a crest, stamp their feet, click their teeth, and rattle their quills. If that doesn’t drive off the predator, the porcupine runs backward to ram the potential attacker with sharp quills.
Porcupines live underground in burrows in monogamous pairs. Their babies are called porcupettes and are born in a specific birthing chamber in the burrow. At first, their quills are soft, but at a week old they begin to harden and the porcupettes venture out of the den.
The albino squirrels of Olney, Illinois
A small town in Illinois has somehow found itself overrun with albino gray squirrels. They have a couple of legends about how it came about, but it seems that in 1902 someone brought a few albino squirrels to a saloon, where they were put on display. After a while, the squirrels were released and evidently, they reproduced.
The town has since embraced their squirrels, making it their trademark gimmick. They even have a law that squirrels have the right of way on streets. Plus, it’s illegal to harass the squirrels and you’d face a fine up to $750. Every year, the town counts their albino squirrels to see how the population is doing, but it’s likely the albino squirrels will eventually disappear.
The leucistic cardinal
Normally, male cardinals are red with a black face and females are brown with red-tinged feathers. However, there is a range of color variations depending on how much pigment the bird’s cells produce. No matter what their coloration, pretty cardinals are songbirds and often travel in pairs.
A cardinal can raise and lower the crest on its head, depending on if it’s agitated or resting. Before making a nest, cardinal pairs travel around looking for the perfect spot, like a couple on House Hunters. She remarks about how the spot doesn’t have something or other, and he remarks about how it’s out of their price range.
The albino wallabies
Wallabies are adorable mini-kangaroos. They belong to the same taxonomic family as kangaroos, the Macropodidae family (which means large foot). Since they’re members of this family, wallabies are marsupials and carry their babies in pouches. There are a variety of wallaby species: bush, scrub, swamp, forest, rock, and more.
Generally, wallabies are smaller than kangaroos. In fact, the large size of the six kangaroo species is what defines them separately from the other macropods. But even so, they can powerfully kick and use their large tails for balance. When it comes to food, wallabies are herbivores who like grasses and plants.
The albino barking deer
This albino animal is a barking deer, or red muntjac. They live in the forests, grasslands, and savannas of Southeast Asia, eating an omnivorous diet consisting of things like fruits, grass, seeds, eggs, and small animals. Occasionally, they’ll scavenge for carrion. Apparently, their fur is very soft.
So why are they called barking deer? Well, when they sense a predator is near, they often make a sound similar to a dog’s bark. The males have short little antlers but can be very fierce and territorial despite their small size. When fighting over territory, the males use their teeny antlers and their tusk-like canines.
The albino oystercatcher
Normally, oystercatchers have a dark head and neck, with a brown back. But this albino bird is all snowy white. They almost exclusively eat shellfish, like clams and oysters, hence their name. In Mexico, the East Coast, and Central America, these birds live in salt marshes and narrow barrier beaches.
When it comes to migrating and wintering, these birds are all over the place. Some fly hundreds of miles away, but in different directions, while others stay in their breeding area all year round. While oystercatchers usually can break open shellfish, sometimes the prey will clamp down on the bird’s beak, putting it in danger.
The albino ferret
Pet ferrets are the domesticated version of European polecats. They’re also related to wild stoats, ferrets, and weasels. Curiously, stoats can do a really weird dance consisting of flopping and rolling and frantically running about. Their prey, rabbits, are transfixed by the weird wiggling stoats. As a result, the stoat gets closer and closer until it snatches the rabbit.
Ferrets can do a similar bouncing dance, but they’re doing it to play, not to transfix you into your death. However, European hunters have used ferrets to hunt rabbits in the past. The little noodles can take down prey larger than themselves.
The albino competing rats
At Nebraska Wesleyan University, students in the psychology class Basic Learning Principles each train with a rat and then compete at the end of the semester in the Rat Olympics (also called the Xtreme Rat Challenge). The students teach the rats to associate a sound with food, which works as a positive reinforcer for the other behaviors they teach the rats.
After weeks of training, the students and their rats perform a series of tasks for the challenge. Walking along a rope and climbing a rope are two of the challenges. Once the rat hears the clicking sound, it does the action to get the food it associates with the sound.