Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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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 ordinary blondes.

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 albinos.

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 relatives.

For 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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