A mutation is basically a change that occurs in nature when segments of an animal’s DNA are damaged, added or removed, often at conception. Although these genetic hiccups are often thought of as unwanted mistakes, they can be beneficial or – in the case of these 20 examples – produce some beautiful coloration diversity.
20. Melanistic Penguin
Melanin is a dark pigment in the skin that causes black coloration; it helps the body synthesize vitamin D and protects against sun damage. Melanism is incredibly rare in penguins and makes the adorable feathered butlers look like they forgot to put on their white shirts… but they are still very stylish.
19. Leucistic Peafowl
A deficiency in several types of color pigmentation gives an animal leucism, leading to pale or patchy coloration. Animals with leucistic mutations, then, keep their eye color and showcase some stunning examples of beauty, like this magnificent all-white peacock. Sometimes, less is more.
18. Albino Alligator
Albinism is on the opposite end of the scale to melanism; albino animals specifically lack melanin, even in the irises of their eyes. This mutation is especially dangerous to reptiles, as they suffer from a lack of camouflage and UV protection. This baby albino alligator, for instance, might not live longer than 24 hours in the wild.
17. Melanistic Squirrel
Melanistic squirrels are still relatively rare: an estimated one squirrel in every 10,000 is black. Its striking appearance, though, has drawn a lot of appreciation; many parts of the United States take pride in their black squirrels. It looks like a tiny secret agent, after all.
16. Lutino Macaw
Xanthochromism is a yellow pigment mutation that occurs in animals, and in birds it’s referred to as lutino. The red-eyed lutino blue-and-gold macaw, then, is exceedingly rare and has striking golden yellow feathers with white facial markings. It would look great on your shoulder while you were digging up buried treasure.
15. Pink Dolphin
Population counts of the pink-hued Amazon river dolphin are uncertain, and the sometimes-pinkish Chinese white dolphin is near threatened. But really rare – as in, only 14 have been seen since 1962 – is a pink bottlenose dolphin, though there is one in Louisiana’s Calcasieu Lake.
14. Piebald Moose
When animals with leucistic mutations showcase spotted or patchy patterns of pigmentation they are often called pied or piebald. This trait is more common in horses and is extremely rare in moose – even rarer now, since one gorgeous, majestic animal was tragically shot by poachers in 2012.
13. Venus the Two-Faced Cat
No, she’s not the cutest batman villain ever; Venus the cat is a fantastic feline whose face and eyes are different colors on the left and right side. Geneticists have explained that Venus is most likely a mosaic cat, meaning her two X chromosomes each have a different signature fur pattern, with leucistic mutations affecting her eyes.
12. Pink Grasshopper
It may not be conventionally pretty, but it’s hard to deny that this shocking pink grasshopper has a beauty of its own. The erythrism mutation causes a reddish pigmentation in animals; the downside is that they stand out in green foliage, so candy-colored bugs are rare and have a low life expectancy.
11. Piebald Ball Python
The ball python is the only known python to have the piebald mutation, which gives them lovely contrasting white bands or patterns on their scales. They were initially avoided by snake enthusiasts for fear that the pattern was a disease, but since the mutation was identified they have become prized for their differences.
10. Gynandromorph Cardinal
Gynandromorphism – aside from being hard to pronounce – is a mutation that results in male and female cells not splitting properly, causing the animal to have traits of both genders. This magnificent example is an exceedingly rare bilateral gynandromorph cardinal.
9. Blue Lobster
Although all lobsters turn bright red when cooked, one in every two million lobsters start out bright blue. A protein in its body causes this mutation by producing excessive amounts of blue pigment, thereby masking its other colors. It’s not great for hiding, but it is very regal.
8. Melanistic Jaguar
Panthers are jaguars and leopards with melanism, and even though they look pure black you can sometimes still see their spots. A black jaguar, meanwhile, is less common than its colored variants, but, with its spots partially visible, it is a gorgeous, majestic feline whose beauty is hard to match.
7. Albino Gorilla
Snowflake was the only known albino gorilla in the world and, having been caught in the wild, he grew up in captivity at the Barcelona zoo. His mutation is thought to be the result of inbreeding, but he was a handsome beast that lived to the ripe old age, for gorillas, of 39.
6. Red Zebra
Here’s one zebra that’s not afraid to buck convention and change its racing stripes. When erythrism rears up in these wild horse cousins, the results are astounding. The reddish pigment manifests itself as a ginger-brown coloration guaranteed to make other zebras green with envy.
5. White Tiger
White tigers are a breed of Bengal tiger that are missing only one of three types of the melanin that normally color Bengal tigers’ fur orange. The white tiger’s exotic beauty, though, is widely regarded, and they continue to be popular in captivity.
4. Gynandromorph Butterfly
Butterflies are generally so pretty that a lot of people give them a pass for being bugs; even people who aren’t fond of creepy-crawlies like them. This Lepidoptera butterfly may be a bilateral split gynandromorph, but it likely won’t split opinions on how lovely it is.
3. Pink Hippopotamus
It might be common in cartoons and TV shows, but in reality pink hippos are anything but the norm. This amazingly hued hippo calf, though, shows patched skin and dark eyes, indicating it is leucistic and not albino. This might cause sun exposure problems in other species, but hippos have natural sunscreen in their sweat.
2. Golden Tiger
Just like the white tiger, golden tigers are Bengals with variant melanin pigmentation. In fact, some of them carry the same recessive genes seen in white tigers. It is thought that golden tigers, however, don’t exist in the wild and only occur through captive breeding.
1. Pink Elephant
You’re not seeing things – pink elephants really are on parade. These albinos, which are technically called white elephants, are sacred in Thailand, and in Burma they are considered a sign of great fortune. These beautiful creatures actually have reddish-brown skin, but they turn pink when wet.