| Feb 12, 2009

Back to HomeOutdoors in the Land O'lakes - February 12, 2009 Albinos – Living PhantomsBy Lorraine Julien After seeing a picture of a pair of albino deer in the Madoc area recently, I decided to do a bit of research into other albino wildlife.

Though Albinism is quite rare, the disorder does occur in mammals (including humans), fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians. According to Wikipedia, 1 in 17,000 humans has some type of Albinism although 1 in 70 is a carrier of Albinism genes. It occurs with equal frequency in both genders. According to legends and folklore, humans have had a fascination with albino wildlife since ancient times – sometimes attributing spiritual powers to them.

In present times, a good example of a famous albino is Wiarton Willie, a groundhog weather prognosticator (nicknamed Wee Willie 2) who this past week forecast we’d have at least six more weeks of winter! The original Wiarton Willie (Wee Willie), also an albino groundhog, was said to be 22 years old when he died some time during his hibernation in the winter of 1998-1999.

Albinism is a type of hypopigmentary congenital disorder characterized by partial or total lack of melanin pigment in the eyes, skin and hair. The skin, hair, fur, feathers or scales are very pale or white and the eyes may be red (although this is not always the case). This disorder results from the inheritance of recessive genes, usually from both parents. Otherwise, albinos are generally healthy and usually can have a normal lifespan.

Albinos in the wild do not have an easy life. For instance, they lack protective camouflage making them very susceptible to predators. Because of the lack of melanin, which protects from ultraviolet radiation, many albinos are prone to skin cancer and may also have impaired vision. Amazingly though, albinos are not sterile and are fully capable of reproducing.

Almost any animal, bird or fish you can think of can be an albino. Some examples are: raccoon, squirrel, moose, deer, elk, crow, ferret, snapping turtle, snake, hedgehog, cat, frogs, goats – just to name a few. Albino animals have long been prized by zoos for their uniqueness. They are usually prime attractions.

There are some animals that are naturally white and should not be mistaken for albinos. Some of these include the chinchilla, white tiger and the white peacock. There is a similar disorder, called Leucism, where the animal appears white but, instead of just lacking melanin pigment, as in albinos, animals with leucism lack all pigmentation.

Humans have long intentionally bred certain albino animals (e.g. rabbits) for their appearance. Albinistic strains of mice and rats are also intentionally bred and used in lab research.

Albinism also occurs in humans. Small things can be done though to improve the quality of life in those who are affected. It’s most important, in bright light, to protect the eyes with sunglasses and use a hat and sunscreen when outdoors in the sun. Even bright lights inside should be avoided.

In the past, particularly, humans with this condition were often the source of public curiosity, discrimination, ridicule and even violence. During the 19th century human and animal albinos were even paraded as circus exhibits. To this day, in various parts of the world, dangerous superstitions about albinos still abound.

Please feel free to report any observations to Lorraine Julien at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or Steve Blight at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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