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.
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 watching March 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.
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.