Unique yellow penguin sighted
Among 120,000 king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) on the sub-Antarctic South Georgia Island, one stood out—a yellow penguin never seen before. Its discoverer, wildlife photo-grapher Yves Adams, said: “The yellow penguin swam to shore just in front of us. It gave a little show—flicked water off its feathers, walked up the sand, and entered a colony of king penguins.”1
King penguins are known for their tuxedo look; white front with black back, sides, head and feet, with traces of bright yellow around the neck. This unique yellow penguin lacks any of their normally distinctive black colouring. It features instead a stunning bright yellow neck and head, with creamy back and sides.
Biologists have speculated (prior to any possible genetic analysis) that it has a mutation which causes it to produce only a little of the pigment (melanin) that gives penguins their black colour. This condition is probably leucism.2 So its yellow pigment (spheniscin), unique to penguins, has come to the fore in this way.
However, while this malfunction gives the penguin its striking appearance, melanin shortage comes with disadvantages, including less UV protection. Melanin gives structural strength to feathers, so these are likely weaker and will wear faster. Underwater from above, penguin’s dark backs normally blend in with the dark ocean, so the mutant will find it harder to avoid e.g. hungry leopard seals.
Nonetheless, it could perhaps successfully survive and mate. It was observed swimming with and moving about freely amongst the other king penguins. Zoologist Daniel Thomas has previously explained that penguins may “use the yellow pigment to attract mates”.3 So it might help this mellow yellow penguin to melt another’s heart. Whether or not it could give rise to a new ‘all yellow’ species or subspecies is doubtful, though possible.
But even then, it would not be ‘evolution in action’, which requires vast numbers of changes that gain information. The ‘yellow’ change, like the vast majority of mutations, corrupts or loses information. So it points to a fallen world in which, following the entrance of sin and death, everything is subject to decay. This includes the genomes of living creatures, moving farther away from God’s ‘very good’ creation.
References and notes
- Touma, R., ‘Strange pale penguin’: rare yellow and white bird discovered among king penguins in Atlantic; theguardian.com, 26 Feb 2021. Return to text.
- Cf. albinism in which there is none at all. Leucism (or leukism) should not be confused with albinism, although both come from words for ‘white’ (Greek leukos, Latin albus). Leucism is a reduction of pigments, while albinism is loss of melanin specifically. Albino creatures often have pink irises, but leucistic ones don’t. Return to text.
- Smithsonian Insider, Yellow pigment in penguin feathers is chemically distinct, spectroscopic studies reveal; insider.si.edu, 22 April 2013. Return to text.