Just in time for the holiday season, a super-rare snow-white alligator with ice-blue eyes has just been hatched at a Florida reptile park.
Weighing in at a hefty 96 grams (3.4 ounces) and measuring 49 cm (19 inches) tip to tail, the baby gator is about as long as a newborn human, but only as heavy as a deck of cards. That won’t be the case for long, though: she and her brother – who was born with normal coloring – are already feasting regularly on bite-size chicken pieces and tiny “Croc Chow” pellets specially designed for alligator nutrition.
“These are incredibly special animals in the reptile world, and we are being very careful with their safety and security,” said Mark McHugh, President and CEO of Gatorland in an email statement.
“We plan to have them on display early next year so guests can see them, learn about them, and fall in love with them like we have,” he added. “For now, however, we continue to keep them safe where we can closely monitor their health and growth.”
The new baby gator owes her coloring to leucism – a very rare condition in which pigmentation is reduced, but not missing. It’s sometimes mistaken for albinism, but it’s not the same: albinism is the result of a lack of melanin-producing cells, while leucism is an absence of some pigmentation only. A quick diagnostic test to tell the difference is to check the eyes: in albino animals, they’ll be pink; in leucistic ones, like the new baby gator, they’ll more often be blue or dark.
White alligators do exist in nature, but they’re very rare. That’s partly because the various conditions that cause the pale coloration are both uncommon and autosomal recessive – in other words, you have to have two parents that both carry a specific rare genetic mutation, and you have to inherit that mutation from both of them, before you’re born with this otherworldly coloring yourself.
But it’s also because lacking any kind of melanin is… not exactly good for your health. Especially if you live in the wild: not only are albino individuals of any species practically defenseless against ultraviolet radiation, thus majorly increasing their risk of cancers, but it also messes with their vision and ability to camouflage themselves. Not great if you’re a predator in the swamps of sunny Florida.
But while albinism is theoretically the less common condition generally, leucistic alligators like the new baby are super-rare – so rare, in fact, that she is only the eighth of her kind known to exist. Three others live at Gatorworld, giving the theme park the largest collection of leucistic alligators in the world.
“This is beyond ‘rare,’ it is absolutely extraordinary!” said McHugh. “For the first time since a nest of leucistic alligators was discovered in the swamps of Louisiana 36 years ago, we have the first birth of a solid white alligator ever recorded from those original alligators.”
Having both been given an A+ on their most recent health check up, the sibling gators are now just waiting for their names. With suggestions open to the public on Gatorland’s social media accounts, the current frontrunners for the new ice princess include Ice, Noelle, Snow, Pearl, Ivory and Marshmallow.
Watch out though: just because she’s cute, doesn’t mean she’s not dangerous. She might be a Marshmallow, but get too close, and she’ll bite back!