Friday, March 12, 2010

Teh Mutant Peguinz!!

Andrew Evans took this photo:

"He looked like a single black king moving across a chessboard of so many white pawns. Our first glimpse was puzzling until we drew closer and realized that this was not some other bird but indeed another penguin of a different color.

Our group from Lindblad Expeditions spotted this very unique bird at Fortuna Bay on the subantarctic island of South Georgia. Out of several thousand pairs of king penguins, this was the only individual that was entirely black although earlier in the morning I had spotted another that showed muted coloration. Recent science papers (PDF) show that the trait has been documented only a handful of times in South Georgia. Some fellow travelers recall seeing a melanistic penguin at St. Andrew's Bay, also on South Georgia.

Dr. Allan Baker, ornithologist and professor of Environmental and Evolutionary Studies at the University of Toronto and head of the Department of Natural History at the Royal Ontario Museum: "Wow. That looks so bizarre I can't even believe it. Wow."

"Well that is astonishing," he said. "I've never ever seen that before. It's a one in a zillion kind of mutation somewhere. The animal has lost control of its pigmentation patterns. Presumably it's some kind of mutation." He explained that typically, melanistic birds of all species will have white spots where melanin pigmentation has failed to color the feathers. But it's extremely rare for melanin deposits to occur where they're not normally located, as genes control those pathways (in this case, in the breast feathers of the king penguin). After looking through several texts, he ruled out the potential for it to be a hybrid and said that it's closer in coloring to the Little Blue penguin. "But look at the size of those legs," he added, "It's an absolute monster."