Flashes of white at the Georgia Aquarium’s River Scout gallery are its newest residents, a pair of albino alligators. The 8-year-old, 6-foot-long female and 7-year-old, 3-foot-long male went on display this week. Their stark white color and reddish eyes are a result of a genetic mutation that limits production of melanin, the pigment in skin. Here are a few more facts about these ghostly gators:
● Most American alligators are protected from sunburn by their olive-black skin. Albino alligators aren’t. Their survival rate is estimated to be 24 hours in the wild because of UV radiation sensitivity and inability to hide from hungry critters. These gators hatched safely in captivity from eggs collected by a commercial operation in Louisiana.
● Albino alligators chow on a typical American alligator diet of fish, frogs and insects, but Georgia Aquarium keepers sneak vitamin D supplements into fish to make up for the missing benefits of sunlight they can’t handle. “You hide it, just like for a small child, so they don’t know it’s there,” said Tim Mullican, Georgia Aquarium’s vice president of zoological operations.
● By 1967, American alligators were an endangered species. Twenty years later, they were off the list because conservation efforts the population and habitat rebound. As for albinos, well, they’re always going to be special: only about 1 out of 100,000 alligators is born without pigment.