In our colorful world, sometimes the absence of color can be even more striking and eye-catching. Affected by a disorder called albinism, these white animals provide a stark contrast from the colorful habitats in which they live. Yet understanding the difference between true albinos and white animal variations is often difficult. Usually, it’s all in the eyes.
Albinism is a congenital disorder characterized by partial or total absence of pigment in one’s skin, hair, and eyes, most frequently caused by an absence of tyrosinase, an enzyme involved in making melanin. Affected individuals can have partial pigment loss or complete pigment loss. The disorder, which affects all vertebrates, is a recessive trait, and often causes eye problems and an increased susceptibility to sun damage. Most often the reddish eye color helps distinguish between white variations and true albinos.
Since an animal’s appearance is hugely important to their survival, albinism is often a mark of death for animals living in the wild. Not only does it prevent them from being able to hide from predators or prey, but it also interferes with mating rituals and other social aspects. In many cases, the health issues accompanying albinism further decrease the animal’s survival rate.