A Fantastic Yellow Penguin Recorded By A Photographer—here’s why it’s so rare

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This is yet another remarkable occasion in which Nature reveals its art of creation. With its surprises of development, spanning over billions of years, right here is a never-seen-before moment that a wildlife photographer got lucky enough to record.

In 2019, Belgian photographer Yves Adams went on an expedition to the South Atlantic. He expected to see king penguins, which are easy to spot because they have black and yellow feathers on their heads and necks and an orange stripe that runs the length of their beaks.

Adams saw something unique instead: a bright yellow penguin.

On South Georgia Island, there is a place called Salisbury Plains where up to 120,000 king penguins have been seen moving around in a sea of black feathers.

But Adams saw one animal that stood out: A bird with a bill the colour of ivory, a body the colour of cream, and a mane of yellow feathers. Adams was taking things off the mission ship when he saw the unusual bird among penguins. He stopped what he was doing and got his camera. Adams’ Instagram has more photos of the yellow penguin.

“To our surprise, they swam towards us,” Adams wrote in an email. “So for a few minutes, we were fortunate, and I was so glad I got these good photo conditions!”

Adams took a lot of pictures during the two-month trip. He finally went through all of them and edited the special ones, which have since gone popular, not too long ago.

Albinism happens when the colour of a single animal is very different from what the species usually looks like. In this case, P. Dee Boersma, a penguin expert, says the correct name for the yellow-maned bird is “leucism.” This genetic change makes an animal mostly white but able to make some colour. (See an image of a “blonde” chinstrap penguin.)

Boersma, a conservation scientist at the University of Washington and a National Geographic Explorer, says, “How they lack pigment kind of varies from person to person, but in general, it looks like they’ve been dipped in bleach.”

Daniel Thomas, an ornithologist and expert on penguin pigments at Massey University in New Zealand, thinks that the bird is probably leucistic and not albino, meaning it has no pigment.

Thomas says in an email, “There are two kinds of melanin pigments: eumelanin and phaeomelanin.” “Eumelanin gives black and most shiny blues and greens their color, and phaeomelanin gives brown and chestnut colours their colour.”

When Thomas looks closely at the pictures of the yellow penguin, he points out the dark line between the yellow and white feathers and the beige feathers on the penguin’s back as proof that the bird is still making phaomelanin but not eumelanin. He says this is a common situation for leucistic birds, and it shows that the bird is still making phaomelanin but not eumelanin.

Boersma has been studying penguins for 38 years, and she says she can count the number of leucistic animals she’s seen on two hands. She has never seen a leucistic king penguin, but she is not surprised that they exist.

Many reports have been of leucistic kings, rockhoppers, and macaroni penguins. In 2019, a king penguin with brown feathers was seen in South Georgia. This penguin had a genetic change that made its grey feathers brown. (King penguins are one of the tallest kinds, so learn more about them.)

Adams says you can’t tell from looking at the yellow penguin if it’s a boy or a female. Boersma studies a type of penguin called Magellanic penguins. When it’s time for the males to find a mate, the way they look can make it hard.

She says, “If you’re a female, you’ll be fine because there are about three males for every female.” But different-looking guys don’t have a good chance of mating. Because of this, the leucism gene only has a chance to be passed on about half of the time. (You can look at pictures of animals with albinism and leucism, from squirrels to crabs.)


The number of king penguins is growing, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature says they are “of least concern.”

But when rare colours get passed down, they usually endanger the person and make the species even rarer.

When penguins have more pigment than usual in their feathers, this is called melanism, making them look darker all over. These penguins may stand out more than others in the water, making it harder to sneak up on fish.

She says leopard seals or killer whales are likelier to eat pale penguins in the Antarctic.

So, “you’re not going to get a chance to see very many,” Boersma says, which makes Adams’ sighting even more impressive.



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