You might have seen or heard about albino squirrels, peacocks, and snakes. Even albino dolphins, sharks, and turtles are there. Albinism is a congenital disorder, that causes a partial or complete absence of pigmentation in the skin, eyes, and hair. Those who are affected by albinism lack the pigment melanin, that is responsible for the color of the skin, eyes, and hair.
In case of albinos, an enzyme involved in melanin production is absent or defective. This results in absence of melanin in the body, thereby causing albinism. This condition is mostly acquired from both parents, but in some cases, it can be inherited from a single parent. It may also happen that non-albino parents get an albino offspring. This is because, the parents are carriers of the genes that cause this condition.
As in case of humans, albinism in animals is also a genetic disorder, that causes partial or complete absence of the pigment melanin. Various gene mutations are responsible for the different types of albinism. While some are true albinos (amelanistic albino) with no trace of melanin in their body; some others have the condition in varying degrees, as in piebaldism (as patches of pigmentation) . Albinism is seen in almost all animal species, that have melanin in their bodies. They include reptiles, amphibians, mollusks, birds, and mammals. Animals like mice, rat, and guinea pigs, are preferred for laboratory research and to raise as pets. This condition is seen in snakes, sharks, whales, dolphins, zebras, rabbits, peacocks, turtles, frogs, deer, and skunks.
True Albino Animals
As mentioned above, albinos without a single trace of melanin in their body are called true albinos. There are many other conditions, that are confused with albinism in animals. Some animals are pure white in color, but are not albinos.
You can identify a true albino animal with its eye color. A true albino animal lacks melanin totally, and will have no marking on its body. Its eyes will be pink or red. This eye color is not common in humans. In case of true albino animals, the blood vessels in the retina are seen through their eyes, as absence of melanin makes the eyes opaque. Their nails, skin, and scales will also be pink or white in color. Partial albinos will have eyes that are blue or normal in color.
There are certain conditions that are related to albinism in animals. While axanthic albinos (axanthism) lack yellow color on their body, anerythristic albinos lack red color. Albinism is also mistaken for leucism, wherein the animal has a very pale or white color, but the eyes are dark. They do not lack melanin, and can be identified with their eye color.
In short, albinism is caused by lack of melanin in various degrees. While true albinos lack it completely, partial albinos have melanin in some parts of the body. The main trait of a true albino animal is pink eyes. Even though, albino animals look amazing and intriguing, they face various problems due to this condition.
As melanin protects the skin from ultraviolet radiation, albino animals are prone to sunburn and skin cancer. They lack the camouflaging capacity, as compared to their counterparts. They also become easy prey to predators. Albinism may cause vision problems too. It has also been observed that albino animals face trouble in finding a mate, as they lack the normal coloration.