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The Outsider Of The Animal Kingdom

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Fewer than 100 albino American alligators are known to exist in the world.
Ken Stanek, National Aquarium
Fewer than 100 albino American alligators are known to exist in the world.

A most unusual outsider has settled in for a stay in our Nation's Capitol: an albino American Alligator.

"It's spectacular, when you see it in person," says Ryan Dumas, herpetologist at the National Aquarium in Washington, D.C. "Just looking at the animal's head, you can see all the dents and formations that are part of the animals skull. It's just a really neat looking animal."

Albinism is also known as a-melanism, which is a lack of all dark pigments throughout the body. Since American alligators are dark pigmented animals, all of that's gone. "Even when the lights go out at night, it's a very bright animal," says Dumas. It makes for a great aquarium exhibition, but in the wild, white skin creates big problems.

A Bright Alligator is a Dead Alligator

While normal American alligators live anywhere from 40 to 80 years, for an albino, the chances of making it more than a couple of hours are very slim.

"You can imagine an animal like the American alligator who's an ambush predator, has a very tough time creeping up on unsuspecting prey when it's bright white," says Dumas.

With predators ranging from birds, raccoons, large fish, and even other Alligators, Dumas says the albino gator doesn't stand a chance. "Natural selection just pulls them right out."

The gator on view at the National Aquarium was born on an alligator farm in Cut Off, La. The farm removes eggs from the nests of wild Alligators. Once the eggs hatch, some of the alligators are released back into the wild, and some of them are used for their meat and skin. But, when an egg hatches and it's an albino--which is very rare--that gator gets a lot of special attention.

Ghoulish or Good Luck?

Dumas says, apart from their skin, the albino alligator is like the normal American Alligators in almost every way. Except one.

"Local lore around the area is if you see an albino alligator it's considered very lucky," he says. "Some people view it as a ghost, some people think it's just very, very lucky."

Whether it's a charm or not, Dumas says, there are less than 100 in the entire world. So, if you see one of these reptilian outsiders, consider yourself pretty lucky.

[Music: "See You Later Alligator" by Little Feat from Join the Band]

Photos: Albino American Alligator

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