Albinism is a very rare occurrence in the wild, estimated to be present between 1 in 20,000 animals to 1 in a million. It is caused by a rare genetic mutation that prevents the production of melanin (the pigment which creates an animal’s coloring). If your pet reptile ever breeds, you may be wondering about the small chance that they may produce albino young too.
Yes, any species of animal, including reptiles, can be albino. Albinism in reptiles is often characterized by red eyes and pale skin, but some species create another pigment besides melanin known as ‘carotenoids’ which isn’t affected by albinism, resulting in more colorful outcomes.
Partial albinism can also occur in some reptile species which affects only patches of their skin or scales and this is known as ‘Piebald’, which is far more common than full albinism. Albino animals are often thought of as only having white or bleached skin and red eyes, but albinism doesn’t always work this wall in the reptile world. Let’s learn more about the causes of reptile albinism and a look at 10 fascinating examples of albino reptiles.
How Rare is Albinism in Reptiles?
Along with birds and amphibians, albinism is most commonly seen in reptiles compared to mammals and other species on the planet. It should be said though that the majority of reptile species do not fall into the category of ‘true’ albinism.
Many are labeled ‘albino’ when they’re actually ‘amelanistic’. Albino tends to mean that you lack all color pigment, but reptiles actually possess at least two pigments ‘xanthin’ (yellow) and ‘erythrin’ (red) which are collectively known as ‘carotenoids’ which cover the spectrum from pale yellow through to orange and deep red.
So though they will not possess darker coloring caused by the melanin, the residual xanthin and erythrin pigments will show through. This effect is especially noticeable in snakes – a regular Ball Python, for example, has a distinctive pattern of dark brown and muddy orange bands, whereas an Albino or ‘melanistic’ Ball Python will have a white body with golden yellow bands in place of the orange.
What Causes Albinism in Reptiles?
Albinism occurs in reptiles due to a rare genetic mutation which means their cells cannot produce melanin. Melanin is the pigment responsible for the color of a reptile’s skin, scales, or eyes. This genetic mutation occurs at birth and is caused by a recessive gene being passed down to the offspring and only happens when both reptilian parents carry the recessive ‘albino’ gene.
Depending on the unique DNA of each parent when the recessive gene is passed on, a reptile may appear more colorful (amelanistic) or lack pigmentation everywhere, apart from their eyes (leucistic). Albinism typically leaves reptiles, and all animals affected, with red eyes as the lack of pigment reveals the naked blood vessels, whilst Leucism almost works in the reverse, resulting in purely white skin and blue or gray eyes.
Both amelanistic and leucistic reptiles, therefore, are more vulnerable in the wild because their bright colors or complete lack of color robs them of any camouflage in grassy or sandy terrain from predators. The lack of pigment in their skin also makes albino reptiles of any kind vulnerable to developing melanoma as basking in the sunlight will burn them more easily, which is how many often die in the wild.
Amelanistic reptiles will also have poorer eyesight than others as the mutation will lead to poorly developed eye muscles, optic nerves, and retinas, making it difficult for them to focus or use depth perception.
10 Albino Reptiles
There are only around 200 albino alligators in the world and one of only two captive ‘gators currently resides in the Steinhart Aquarium in California – ‘Claude’ the colorless and partially blind alligator.
Albino Leopard Gecko
Leopard geckos are traditionally covered in dark leopard-like spots, but without any dark pigment, the albino version of a leopard gecko produces three stunning variations known as ‘Tremper’, ‘Rainwater’, and ‘Bell’.
Each version displays different color intensities of orange and pale purple and the bands making up the pattern vary from soft to harsh outlines on their head and body.
Albino turtle births are incredibly rare, “occurring only in one of many hundreds of thousands of eggs that are laid” according to Dr. Col Limpus, chief scientist at the Queensland Threatened Species Unit in Australia.
Albino Ball and Burmese Pythons produce beautifully bright sunny shades of yellow and white. You may famously remember the yellow Burmese Python held by Britney Spears during her 2001 MTV VMA performance.
The usual dark brown color of croc skin is replaced by creams, pale pinks, and lilacs in an albino, with striking pale pink eyes!
Albino Blue-tongued Skink
Closely related to the blue-tongued lizard, blue-tongued skinks are normally black and dark brown, but their albino counterparts are a pretty cream and light tan color – they have pin tongues too!
These Argentine lizards are normally in striking monochrome stripes, but the Albino Tegu retains the white with pale tan-gray markings.
The normally fearsome grayish-brown rattlesnakes transform to beautiful blueish white with yellow scales in this form – making their diamond-shaped scales stand out even more.
Albino Green Iguana
The traditionally bright green iguana transforms to a bright yellow instead with bright orange eyes, contrasted further by the white tips on their snout and top of their spines.
Albino Corn Snake
Traditionally dark reddish-brown, the albino corn snake is a vivid display of baby pink with red and yellow spots in its pattern!
If you ever care for an albino reptile in the future, it’s very important to be aware of their light sensitivity. They may hide, for instance, during the day to avoid the sun and even at night if they sense that any bright lights are nearby (such as artificial computer screens/phone lights).
Also, remember that albino reptiles need a source of UV (Ultraviolet) light in their enclosure for warmth just as any reptile does.
You Might Also Like:
- Are Reptiles Cold-Blooded? (Why and Differences)
- Are Reptiles Vertebrates? (Explained and Quick Facts)
- Are Reptiles Capable of Emotion? (Explained for Beginners)
- Are Reptiles Aquatic? (Explained and Quick Facts)
- Are Reptiles Fast? (Top 9 Fastest Reptiles with Pictures)
- Are Reptiles Intelligent? (Top 7 Intelligent Reptiles)
- Do Reptiles Brumate? (Explained and Helpful Guide)