On South Georgia Island, there is a rare yellow penguin, and biologists can't describe it very well.


(Image credit:Yves Adams)

In the penguin world, black-and-white tuxedos may be the traditional dress code, but with an à la mode yellow coat, one dashing person breaks the status quo.

In December 2019, a wildlife photographer took pictures of a rare penguin on a remote island in South Georgia and recently released the images. In the midst of a chaos full of sea elephants and Antarctic fur seals, and thousands of other king penguins, we were walking straight in our path, in the midst of a chaos full of sea elephants and Antarctic fur seals, and thousands of other king penguins were walking straight in our direction. How blessed could I have been?

Adams was leading a two-month photography expedition through the South Atlantic at the time and had stopped at a beach in South Georgia. He saw a fluttering of penguins swimming toward the shore while unpacking protection equipment. One person instantly caught his attention.

I had never seen a yellow penguin before or heard of it. There were 120,000 birds on that beach, and this was the only yellow one there," said Adams. When we knew, we were all going nuts. All the protection equipment was dropped and we took our cameras.

King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) usually adorn a black-and-white coat with a yellowish-gold dash of color on their collar, much like the closely related emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri). According to the Australian Antarctic Program, the yellow pigments are "unique to penguins," although not all animals have them.

It seems that this particular penguin has maintained its yellow feathers but has lost its dark ones, usually colored by a blackish brown pigment known as melanin.

Penguins are relatively rare with distinctive plumage, and often, according to the Australian Antarctic Program, it can be difficult to determine the cause behind the rare colors only by looking at the penguins. There may be some odd coloring due to injury, diet or sickness, but more cases are due to mutations in the genes of the birds. For example, such mutations may cause "melanistic" penguins whose usually white components are black and "albinistic" penguins who have no melanin and are therefore white.

The melanin, a pigment that colours some of its feathers black, is lost by the yellow penguin.
(Image credit:Yves Adams)

Adams told Kennedy News that the genetic disease of the yellow bird is known as leukemia, in which only some of the melanin is lost.

A conservation biologist and professor who was not a member of the expedition, Dee Boersma, agreed. "This penguin is lacking some pigment so it is [leucistic],"This penguin lacks any pigment, so it's [leucitic]. True albinos have all the pigments lost. Boersma said that the bird has a brown head and so some of the colour must have been preserved.


Even so, some disagree.




Kevin McGraw, an integrative behavioral ecologist who was also not part of the expedition, said that I would not call the bird leucistic, because the penguin appears to miss all the melanin.

From the viewpoint that it loses all of the melanin in its plumage, feet and skin, it appears albino, McGraw said. However, if we wanted to unequivocally record whether melanin is present, he said, we might need feather samples for biochemical testing.


Animals can be albino, but, he said, they still have non-melanin pigment.

The penguin lost in its beak the carotenoid or yellow-orange-red pigment and in its feathers the melanin pigment, while maintaining in its feathers the yellow pigment. So some pigments were kicked out of the genetic and cellular machinery, while others were not. McGraw said that I am not aware of many other pictures or birds like this. I was intrigued by this picture.

These strangely colored birds are unusual, and possibly for a cause.

For a number of purposes, including mate selection, camouflage or sun protection, Penguins use body and plumage color, said McGraw. It is conceivable that both survival and reproduction may cause such color aberrations.

The team was fortunate, Adams said, that the yellow penguin landed close enough that they could get this show of a lifetime. A sea of large animals did not obstruct our view. Normally, because of them all, it's almost difficult to step on this beach.

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