Leucistic American Alligator
World's Rarest Reptile?
Finally! The post I've been most eager to share with you! Today, we are going to talk about white alligators, and the fact that they are not all the same. Oh, no. There are two quite different forms of white American alligators. Albino and leucistic. Both are very, very rare, indeed, but by far the most rare alligator (and probably the most rare reptile) in the world is the leucistic form of the American alligator, just like the one pictured above. What makes albino and leucistic alligators different from each other? So glad you asked, because that's what I'm going to endeavor to explain today. As I say, the alligator at the top of this page is a leucistic American alligator. The picture below is an albino American alligator.
Albino American Alligator
Did you compare these two pictures? If you did, I'm guessing you noticed the most obvious difference between these two alligators right away. Yep. Eye coloration. The albino's eyes are pinkish red, and the leucistic's eyes are crystal blue. And there's a reason for that. Albinism and leucism are two distinct conditions, involving genetics and pigmentation, among other things. I'm not going to try to explain all the scientific background on this stuff, because I make no pretence of being a zoologist, or biologist, or geneticist. I just love reptiles, and find them interesting. And I consider white alligators, especially leucistic ones, to be amazing in an almost mystical sense, so that will be my focus today. But for those who enjoy a bit more detail, here is the condensed version of the science behind these two conditions. We'll start with albinism, which is probably a term more of you are familiar with.
Another Pink-eyed Albino American Alligator
Albinism in all animals is caused by an absence of melanin, resulting in very white skin, fur, or scales. In reptiles, the scales are usually translucent, if not completely transparent, and the result is that the albino animal has a pinkish cast in parts of the body. You an see this in the picture above. The alligator's nose, the area around his eyes, and several other places on his body look very pinkish. This is because the blood vessels and muscle tissue are visible through the translucent scales. It's also the reason the albino's eyes show up as pink or red.
Yet Another Albino American Alligator
The lack of melanin production in both the retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE) and the iris causes most animals affected by albinism to have red eyes, due to the underlying blood vessels showing through. This is very obvious in the picture of the albino alligator above. However, it does not hold true for leucistic alligators, because of the way their eye cells have an independent developmental origin, and aren't affected by the genetic cause of leucism. The eyes of most leucistic animals will have normal coloration, though in the case of many reptiles, including all known leucistic alligators, they will be a clear, crystal blue. As in this photo below.
Jeepers, Creepers, How'd I Get These Peepers?
Hey, I Got 'Em, Too!
Because a leucistic alligator does not have the transparent scales of the albino, they don't have that pinkish cast I mentioned. They actually look even whiter than the albinos, and are sometimes described as looking as though they were sculpted of white chocolate.
Genes, Man. It's All In the Genes!
A few more interesting differences in albino alligators and leucistics. Albinism often carries other genetic anomalies that can result in various deformities, such spine curvature. Albino alligators generally do not live as long as leucistics, and they seldom grow to be full sized alligators. The picture below shows an albino alligator receiving acupuncture in an effort to reduce discomfort from its serious spinal issues.
One Can Only Hope These Injections Make This Little Guy More Comfy
Unlike albino alligators, leucistic alligators are robust, healthy reptiles who can live as long and grow as large as any other alligator. Here is my favorite picture of a large, apparently healthy leucistic gator.
I'm afraid I don't know this alligator's real name, but this picture was the inspiration for Big Blue in my book, Swamp Ghosts. To my mind, he's a stunning example of beauty and power, all wrapped up in one magical looking beast. And if you've read my book, you'll know that Lester Purvis (a collector of albino and leucistic snakes) felt exactly the same way when he stumbled upon an alligator nest, and rescued Blue as a hatchling.
Some Adorable Albino Hatchlings Heading for Their New, Safe Environment
Which leads me to the next point. White alligators, whether they are albinos or leucistics, would not be able to survive in the wild. First, they have no protective coloration to hide them from predators, which as we learned in last week's post, are everywhere a little gator looks. In fact, their coloration is a beacon, especially at night, alerting hungry critters of every kind to their presence.
This Little Guy Almost Glows in the Dark. Even His Reflection!
Secondly, if by some incredibly lucky chance little white gators don't get eaten in the first day or two of life, they still won't survive. Alligators are hard-wired to bask in the sun. Like all reptiles, it's how they bring their body temperature up high enough to allow them to move at full speed, so they can hunt their own food. White alligators are pre-programmed to lie in the sun, just like normal colored alligators. But guess what happens to an animal with no protective pigmentation, when it decides to lie in tropical or subtropical sunlight all day? Yep. The same thing that would happen to most of us, especially if we have fair skin, without a sunblock, straw hat, sun glasses, and umbrella. White alligators burn up. Those deadly rays will kill them in short order.
SPF 1000 for Me, Please!
So, here's the way it is, and why these guys are so very, very scarce. If someone doesn't happen upon a white alligator shortly after it hatches, rescue it, and provide a safe home for it, it will die. It's that simple.
And when I say these animals are rare, I'm not exaggerating. There are somewhere between 150 and 200 albino alligators in the WORLD. That's it. All in captivity. And if you think that's rare, get this. There are only 14 known leucistic alligators. Again, that's in the entire WORLD. Think of that! When I say the guy at the top of this page might be the rarest reptile on the planet, I'm not kidding. And for you folks here in central Florida, here's something you might be interested in. FOUR of the 14 leucistic alligators in the world live at our own Gatorland Zoo, in Kissimmee. You can go see them for yourself, and revel in the fact that you have the privilege of viewing such a rare and beautiful animal.
Do Come See Me at Gatorland Zoo
(My Beautiful Blue Eyes Are Said to Bring Good Luck to Anyone I Look at)
This Is Pearl, An Albino Alligator Who Also Lives at Gatorland Zoo
(Go See Her, Too. She's Amazing, As Well)
Another interesting fact about leucistic alligators is that they often have spots and splotches of normal pigmentation scattered about their bodies, particularly on the head. The picture below is one example of what this can look like.
Even Though I Have Some Dark Patches Here & There, I'm Still Leucistic
So Is This Little Hatchling. Cute as a Button, Though, Isn't He?
So now you know that leucistic alligators are not always completely solid white. But when are the darker patches enough to earn them the name piebald alligators? When they look like this!
This is a Piebald or Pied Alligator Baby.
Here's the Same Little Gator With a Fellow Hatchling.
I haven't been able to find any info on these guys, yet, but I'm guessing they are the product of a captive breeding program.
I Believe This is Another of Gatorland's Leucistic Alligators. You Gotta Love Those Polka Dots!
(Perhaps He's the Father of the Babies Above.)
That pretty much wraps up my series on alligators, including everything I know about the two white types, and I hope it's been interesting for you. No, you aren't likely to ever see one of these while fishing on the St. John's or boating on Lake Munroe, or canoeing the Wekiva River, here in central Florida. But that doesn't mean they don't hatch there from time to time, with the same very low frequency that they appear anywhere else in the American alligator's range. It just means no one has been nearby to rescue the occasional little white baby. But hey. Keep your eyes open. You never know when you might be standing right beside an alligator nest, at just the right moment. I mean, it COULD happen. Maybe. Or not. But at least you'd now recognize what you were looking at, right?
A few more pics for your viewing pleasure, and then I'm out of here until next week. (At which time, I believe I'll be sharing something with feathers for a change.)
Don't Look For Me Along the St. Johns.
But Do Come See Me at Gatorland!
Great Photo, Right?
My Favorite Albino Alligator Picture of All Time!
(Who needs Disney's dancing hippos in tutus, when you can see an
underwater ballet like this?)
Ooops. How did this shameless plug for my first Riverbend novel get here?
I have no clue. Honest. Okay, maybe I do. But hopefully, you'll forgive me just this once.)
See you next week! Keep your eyes open, folks. Look up. Look down.
You never know what you might see!