The king penguins usually have black and white plumage with a bit of yellow and orange – but this very special penguin is only yellow and white.
It was the Belgian photographer, Yves Adams, who by accident hit the jackpot while he was leading an expedition for photographers to one of the smaller islands of South Georgia in the South Atlantic Ocean.
While the team was packing their rubber boats together after arriving on the island, Yves Adams suddenly saw something mysterious: Among 120,000 king penguins, he caught sight of a completely yellow king penguin.
All king penguins have the yellow pigment on the chest, but in the yellow penguin, it is much more prevalent in the plumage on the chest and head.
It’s the first time ever that a yellow penguin has been spotted.
It’s not an albino, but close to be one. What the exact cause of the penguin’s particular colour is, researchers do not know, as there is only one image of the yellow penguin – but one theory is that it could be leucism which means the penguin’s cells are not able to create melanin, therefore the black feathers turn a yellowish creamy colour.
This causes the animal to become lighter than usual or completely white. It is reminiscent of albinism (being albino, ed.), which is known from both animals and humans, where all pigment has disappeared in the body.
However, in animals with leucism, there may be dyes that are still in the body.
In the ‘yellow penguin’, it seems that a yellow pigment is dominant on parts of the body. The body can thus express the yellow pigment, but not the dark pigment, which is otherwise dominant in the other king penguins.
Being unique is not always desirable
Sadly, it is expected that our little special fellow is in greater danger than other penguins.
While it may be good to stand out a little from the crowd, it is not an advantage for the yellow penguin when it comes to survival.
The yellow and white plumage can make the penguin more exposed to enemies.
The light penguin will, inevitably, be much easier to see and snatch in the water, for example for a sea leopard or a killer whale.
The black and white plumage of ordinary king penguins means that they are better camouflaged in the water than the yellow and white penguin.
It’s not all about appearance and feather colour 😉
Fortunately for the yellow penguin, the distinctive colour of the plumage does not necessarily mean that it has to live outside a herd.
Based on the knowledge of other penguin species, a penguin is not treated differently because it looks different, so bullying should not be an issue 😉
There is therefore also hope that the yellow penguin will find a mate – or perhaps has already done so.
However, this does not mean that there will be cute yellow penguin cubs.
That would require that the yellow penguin’s partner also has leucism, which is not likely. The penguin cubs will look like the regular king penguins with white and black plumage, as the ability to form the dark pigment correctly will come from the normal coloured penguin.