It’s been a good couple of weeks for emo animals. Not only have we had the incredible photos of a rare black panther spotted in Kenya but a video has revealed what could be the first-ever footage of a black emperor penguin.
The footage, captured by BBC camera crews working on the phenomenal wildlife series Dynasties (if you haven’t seen it, you must catch up here) reveals a penguin with a black belly in a sea of white, like a rebel at a white tie event.
Luckily black never goes out of style, but this penguin didn’t arrive at the party underdressed. Like the panther, it has a rare genetic mutation called melanism, which makes skin, fur, and feathers black due to a high concentration of the pigment melanin – basically the opposite of albinism, which is caused by a lack of pigment.
“Is this the rarest penguin on Earth?” the clip from BBC America asks. Possibly. While partial melanism has been recorded in other penguins – Adelie, chinstrap, gentoo, macaroni, and royal – it seems to occur most often in King penguins. It looks like it’s never been seen in emperor penguins before, and all-black penguins are very rare.
In fact, biologists think just partial-melanism could be as rare as one in a quarter million, and as there is very little documentation or scientific study of all-black penguins, it’s likely to be rarer still.
“He or she could be the only one of its kind,” the clip states.
Adult emperors have black heads and wings, gray backs, and white bellies, with their distinctive yellow-orange markings around the neck. This particular penguin spotted when the Dynasties team were filming the Emperor episode in Antarctica, is almost entirely black, but does have the odd patch of white on its chest and wing tips, and a splash of yellow around its neck.
Sometimes, sadly, it’s not good to stand out in a crowd, though. The mutation can make animals with melanism more easy to spot by predators. In this penguin’s case, not just because it may be more visible on the ice, but because penguins’ white bellies make them look invisible to predators swimming below by helping them blend in with the light from the surface.
Though, as the BBC points out, this one isn't doing too badly, having survived into adulthood.
In fact, according to the BBC the penguin is doing just fine. Filmed amongst hundreds of its besuited brethren and looking healthy, it appeared to show signs of looking for a mate while huddling for warmth with the other penguins.
Emperor penguins are the tallest and heaviest species of penguin at around 122 centimeters (4 feet) tall and weighing up to 45 kilograms (over 100 pounds). They are currently listed as "Near Threatened" on the IUCN's infamous Red List, though scientists have warned that due to failing to adapt to climate change in the Antarctic, we could be in danger of losing them by the end of the century, making them all rare.