Nature Bulletin No. 442-A January 29, 1972
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
Albinos have always been objects of superstition and wonder because
of their spectacular appearance and rarity in nature. To the Indian tribes
of the Great Plains, a white buffalo was a sacred beast regarded as the
special property of the Sun. When one was found and killed the hide
was always beautifully tanned, made into a robe and, at the next annual
religious ceremony, hung above all other offerings to the Sun. It was
never used or sold but allowed to hang until it shriveled and fell to
pieces. Only the medicine men were permitted to use the scraps,
trimmed from the edges, for wrapping their sacred pipes or to make a
head band worn on great occasions.
"Albino" is the name originally given by Portuguese explorers to
"white" Negroes they saw in West Africa. Since then it also has come to
mean an individual, of any species of living thing, which lacks the
pigments that other members of its race normally have. Albinos occur
among all races of men, almost all species of domestic animals, and a
wide variety of wild species. We also see, sometimes, the opposite: an
intense pigmentation called "melanism", such as in black squirrels,
black pheasants and other species with black or nearly black plumage,
pelt or skin.
True Albinos, such as in man, show an almost total lack of pigment in
their skin, hair and eyes. The eyes, however, appear pink or red because
the blood vessels in the iris and retina reflect light, whereas in normally
colored individuals they are hidden by pigment. Albino people have
very defective vision and their eyes are extremely sensitive to light.
They habitually squint, blink, and should wear dark glasses. The skin is
very white and never tans, so that sunburn is much more serious than in
Among humans and wild animals, most albinos come from parents with
normal coloring. Studies of the pedigrees of hundreds of families with
one or more albino children indicate that the peculiarity is inherited
from both the father and the mother -- both carry the albino gene or
hereditary factor without any indication of it before the child is born --
and that, on the average, one fourth of the children of such parents are
White mice, white rats, white guinea pigs and white rabbits -- true
albinos with pink eyes -- are reared on a large scale for pets or for use
in scientific laboratories, and for crossing with variously colored races
in breeding experiments. In general, these animals are preferred because
they thrive in captivity and are tamer than their wild and colored
years, the city park of Olney, Illinois, has had a famous colony of
white squirrels. Crowds of people used to strain their eyes for a glimpse
of an albino bat among the hordes that stream out of Carlsbad Cavern,
in New Mexico, every evening at dusk. Several years ago, in our Deer
Grove forest preserve, there was a white crow but the rest of the flock
drove it away and the poor outcast disappeared. In nature, most albinos
probably fall easy prey to their enemies because they are so
conspicuous and their eyesight is poor.
Magazines and newspapers frequently print reports, often with
photographs, of white deer, porcupines, possums, raccoons, muskrats,
minks, robins, crows, blackbirds and other animals. In addition, the
Shedd Aquarium and the Brookfield Zoo report that they have exhibited
or have seen albinos of the following: brook trout, dogfish, gar,
crayfish, lobster, garter snake, rattlesnake, frog and chipmunk.
Was Moby Dick an albino ?
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Update: June 2012