During an expedition to the Southern Ocean in 2019, the Belgian photographer was waiting Yves adams to find a familiar picture: king penguins. These are easily identified by the black and yellow feathers adorning their head and neck and the orange stripe on their beak.
Instead, Adams saw something striking: a bright yellow penguin.
No less than 120,000 king penguins have been sighted forming a great black sea of feathers on the coastal strip of Salisbury Plain in South Georgia.
However, the animal Adams saw stands out above the rest. A bird with an ivory white beak, cream body and lemon plumage. Adams was just landing gear when he saw the unique bird among a group of other penguins. He dropped everything and took his camera.
‘To our surprise they came swam to us, ”Adams said in an email. “So we were very lucky and I was so happy with these ideal conditions!”
During the two-month expedition, Adams took thousands of photos. It wasn’t until recently that he looked at them all and edited the special photos. They have since gone viral.
When the color of an individual animal is very different from the typical color of the species, in some cases albinism has occurred. But that yellow bird is what the penguin expert says Fr Dee Boersma leucism. This is a genetic mutation in which an animal is predominantly white, but can produce pigment.
“ The lack of pigment varies from animal to animal, but in general it looks like they were soaked in bleach, ” said Boersma, a biologist at the University of Washington and National Geographic Explorer.
Daniel Thomas, ornithologist and penguin pigment expert at Massey University in NewZealand, also agrees that the bird is most likely a leucist and not an albino. In the latter there is no pigment at all.
“There are two different melanin pigments: eumelanin and pheomelanin,” Thomas wrote in an email. “Eumelanin provides black discoloration (and most brilliant blue and green colors) and feomelanin for brown and brown colors.”
Zooming in on the photos of the yellow penguin, Thomas points out the dark border between the yellow and white feathers and beige feathers on the penguin’s back. This is proof that the bird still produces pheomelanin but not eumelanin, which he says is the usual recipe in leucistic birds.
The number of leucistic animals that Boersma has seen in the 38 years she has studied penguins can be counted on two hands. And although she has never seen a King Leucist Penguin herself, she is not surprised that they exist.
There is numerous sightings of leucistic king penguins, rock and macaroni. In 2019 it was installed on South Georgia a king penguin with a brown color mutation spotted, which had brown feathers instead of gray.
Rare, but not unique
According to Adams, it’s impossible to tell if the yellow penguin is male or female just by looking. But when it comes time to find a mate, fading can be a problem for men. magelhaenpinguins, a species studied by Boersma.