In a rare event, two albino alligators hatched last week at a zoo in Kenansville, Florida.
Instead of sharing the species’ dark grey-green skin, these American alligator hatchlings are white and pink, with pale-colored eyes and claws. They are two of around 200 albino alligators in the world, according to Chris Perkins of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. At just over a week old, the albino gators are “thriving,” says the zoo.
"We're really excited, we have these guys in the back right now, we're taking really good care of them, making sure they're doing really good, and then before long we'll have them out on exhibit too,” says Andrew Biddle, an alligator trainer at Wild Florida, in a Facebook video.
Albinism occurs when a gene mutation is inherited from one or both parents; the condition can appear in plants, animals, and people. The hereditary mutation disrupts the production of the pigment melanin, which determines things like skin, fur, and eye color. These are the zoo’s second set of albino hatchlings from 27-year-old mom, Snowflake, and 16-year old dad, Blizzard, who also share the condition, reports Madeleine Marr for the Miami Herald.
The new hatchlings were from a clutch of 18 eggs that the pair laid earlier in the summer, according to Newsweek’s Ed Brown. The eggs were moved to an incubator on April 30 where the zoo’s “Croc Squad” could carefully monitoring their progress for the next two months. So far, only two of the 18 eggs have hatched, reports Marie Morales for the Science Times.
“We’re so proud of our albino alligator parents, Snowflake and Blizzard, and our Croc Squad team for helping these hatchlings,” says Sam Haught of Wild Florida in a statement. “With our Croc Squad overseeing these eggs, we’re hoping that these alligators will help engage more visitors, locals and tourists alike, with their environment.”
American alligators were once hunted to the precipice of extinction for their skin and meat, but protections have helped restore their population to marshes and slow-moving freshwater rivers from North Carolina through Texas. Their strong jaws and sharp teeth help them drown and devour fish, frogs, turtles, invertebrates, and other small, swamp-loving creatures. Albino alligators in the wild are at a greater risk of being spotted by a predator and rarely live as long as their non-albino counterparts.
“If you can imagine a 6-inch glowing white lizard swimming around in the swamp, it’s like Skittles,” Haught says the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “Just about everything eats [baby] alligators in the swamp from birds, to fish and even other alligators, and sometimes even the mom.”
Even in human care, albino alligators tend to live shorter lives fraught with more health complications than non-albinos. American alligators can make it into their 70s, but the oldest living albino gator, Claude, is a legend at just 25. Because albino gators lack defense from the sun’s ultraviolet light, Wild Florida has designed a high-shade habitat to minimize exposure to damaging rays, reports Ed Brown for Newsweek.
It will be a while before keepers announce the sex of the hatchlings, which is determined by their incubation temperature. When they hatched, they were under a foot long, but can grow to be 8 to 11 feet long and weigh hundreds of pounds.
“It’ll shock you when you see how cool they look,” says Haught to Chris Perkins of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “And it helps people gain a little deeper interest in alligators instead of seeing them as a mindless eating machine.”