|Black Beauties: 10 Amazing Melanistic Animals|
No, they’re not pigments of your imagination, these dark creatures (the opposites of albinos) display melanism meaning they’re much blacker than normal. While Black Panthers (actually leopards) are the most well-known melanistic animals, a host of others have also been known to change their spots… into one BIG spot.
Melanistic Guinea Pigs
Melanistic guinea pigs are rare in the wild though breeders have tried to force the issue in response to demand from pet owners. With their thick, glossy black coats and matching black-coffee eyes, this famously cute pet takes on an aura of dignity and solemnity – at least, in the eyes of human beholders.
(image via: Wikipedia)
Curanderos (in Spanish, “healers”) in South America’s Andean region have been known to employ melanistic guinea pigs in some of their rituals. No word on how effective these rituals may be for the human patients; the guinea pigs do NOT derive any benefits to put it lightly.
(images via: Natural09, //www.flickr.com/photos/67832671@N00/5176218327/" style="outline-width: 0px; font-weight: bold; font-style: inherit; font-size: 9px; font-family: Arial, helvetica, sans-serif; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); ">Donsutherland1 and Buck Manager)
Black deer? In my woodlands? It’s actually LESS likely than you think. According to Dr. John Baccus, director of the wildlife ecology program at Texas State University, “Even though we have more melanistic deer here than in the whole world, they’re still extremely rare. It’s the rarest of the white-tailed deer, even rarer than the big-antlered deer. I get the harvest records every year from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and generally, there are fewer than five of these melanistic deer that are harvested in any given year.”
(image via: The Jungle Store)
The spectacular shot of a melanistic fawn was taken in the Northwest Hills of Austin, Texas, by renowned photographer R.M.Buquoi. Though rare anywhere, the area around Austin is a hot spot of sorts for melanistic White-tail deer… and their tails do seem to retain their characteristic white undersides.
You’d think being permanently garbed in a tight-fitting formal tuxedo was enough for Antarctica’s King Penguins but nooooo… there’s always that 1 in 30,000 who’s gotta take things to extremes.Melanistic King Penguins can be partially or completely black though their white “bibs” darken much more often than the golden yellow ear patches.
(image via: Telegraph Media Group Ltd.)
Are there any advantages to being an all-black penguin in an all-white world? They might manage to be warmer when the sun shines, for one. Standing out in a crowd could also make reunions between parents and offspring easier, though as we all know from watchingMarch of the Penguins, that doesn’t seem to be a problem for these remarkable birds.
Servals are members of the cat family found in Africa, notable for their very long legs and large ears. Like most felines, servals are prone to melanism but with one difference: the feature is more common in servals living at higher altitudes. It may be that melanism bestows advantages to the mountain-dwelling servals, perhaps relating to heat conservation and camouflage in rockier alpine environments.
(image via: Belle Hollow)
Savannah cats (hybrids of servals and domestic cats) can also exhibit melanism, as illustrated by the happy kitten above. Though melanistic servals and savannahs don’t display the complex patterns of spots and stripes the breeds are known for, their loyal and friendly personalities complement their dark, lustrous coats making them very special cats indeed.
(images via: Strange Species, BirdsOfPrey Ads, //www.flickr.com/photos/93372558@N00/4734915861/" style="outline-width: 0px; font-weight: bold; font-style: inherit; font-size: 9px; font-family: Arial, helvetica, sans-serif; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); ">Dave Appleton and Sisterphonetica)
Owls hunt by night on silent wings, so melanistic owls would seem to have a leg up on their pale-faced brethren. Who can say – no studies have been done on the topic – but it really makes no difference to the small, scuttling critters that make up tan owl’s. Black or white, just be merciful and quick.
(image via: PhotosbyKev)
Barn Owls are kinda creepy looking but this melanistic variant possesses a subtle charismatic charm his bleached buddies can’t match. Hear that, Harry Potter? Valdemort’s owl would like a word.
Melanistic zebras aren’t all-black, though on occasion they come close. Instead, the mutation acts on the width of the black stripes, crowding out the white to varying degrees. Sometimes the effect is startling and unusual, depending on the strength of the melanistic gene and how it acts on certain individuals.
(image via: TrekNature)
Melanism is rare among zebras, probably because so few afflicted individuals live long enough to produce progeny who might carry the trait forward to future generations. Think about it: life’s tough on the African plains, and blending in with the herd is a matter of life and death. Standing out against the background isn’t exactly a strong survival strategy.
At the risk of mixing metaphors, we declare melanistic rabbits to be the black sheep of the bunny family. Not that this bothers them much… who has time to be bothered when every hawk in the neighborhood is noting your every movement while drooling up a storm. It’s enough to make a poor rabbit wish he had some green genes to express. Paging Mr. Greenjeans!
(image via: Penny’s Hot Birding and Life)
You won’t see melanistic bunnies advertising bathroom tissue, toting egg-filled Easter baskets, or taking Elmer Fudd down the garden path and that’s just wrong. Why don’t we have black toilet paper, by the way? We should, dang-nabbit, and when we do, melanistic rabbits will be there for their long-awaited photo opp!
(images via: //www.flickr.com/photos/37700909@N05/5294872989/" style="outline-width: 0px; font-weight: bold; font-style: inherit; font-size: 9px; font-family: Arial, helvetica, sans-serif; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); ">PrezKinney, Hunting Washington Forum and New Jersey Hunter)
Darkwing Duck returns! Melanistic mallards both male and female can exhibit melanism though actually encountering specimens in the wild is very unusual. As with any animal subject to predation from carnivores, standing out from one’s fellows is a no-no; you want to fly under the radar, not into it.
(image via: //www.flickr.com/photos/24931307@N04/6861791568/" style="outline-width: 0px; font-weight: bold; font-style: inherit; font-size: 9px; font-family: Arial, helvetica, sans-serif; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); ">John Atte Kiln)
Melanism affects a creature’s exterior coat of skin, hair, feathers and sometimes the beak (if applicable) and nails so duck-hunters have no need to shy away from eating the meat of melanistic ducks. This avoids situations where one might ask for dark or darker meat.
Melanistic Frogs & Toads
Though toad tadpoles are usually all-black, adults display a range of dull coloration from ochre red to dull gray. Black toads are out of the ordinary, as are black frogs. These creatures sport camouflaged skin tones and patterns to avoid a wide range of predators; contrast is most definitely NOT their friend.
(image via: Field Herp Forum)
Melanism can affect the level of pigmentation in an animal’s eyes but that level varies from one individual to the next. The melanisticAmerican Toad above retains its typically golden irises, which contrast nicely with its matte black, knobby and warty skin.
Jaguars are the Americas’ largest Big Cats and while melanistic specimens are rare, they’re relatively well known to both ancient and modern society. The nature of the melanism is such that the jaguar’s complex and distinctive pattern of rosette markings is subsumed by dark pigmentation, but not completely obscured. The effect is similar to certain silk fabric and is known as “ghost striping”.
(image via: Touristmaker)
Black Jaguars are comparatively easy to propagate in captivity because the gene for melanism is dominant, as opposed to the gene for melanistic leopards (black panthers) which is recessive. AS such, many zoos across the globe feature black jaguars and we can enjoy viewing photographs of them if one isn’t available for up close & personal encounters at your local zoo or animal park.
Not all animals are prey to melanism, as one must have the gene for the condition to begin with. It’s interesting to wonder what theoretical melanistic creatures would look like, however, and the above rendering of a “Black Lion” gives us a clue. If anything, the infusion of dark pigment gives the King of Beasts an even more majestic appearance – not that he really needs one. Cut, fade to black…