The Georgia Aquarium is now home to two rare albino American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis), which are at home in the Southern Company River Scout gallery. The male and female alligators, which measure approximately three and six feet in length, are two of a population of fewer than 50 albino American alligators living in the United States.
The albino alligator is one of two types of white alligators, which are the same species as the commonly recognized American alligator with olive and black coloration. The white coloring is due to a very rare genetic mutation that affects the production of melanin, a skin pigment. The albino alligator’s eyes appear pink or red because the underlying blood vessels in the iris can be seen due to the absence of pigment.
Albino alligators have different needs than normal American alligators. These “ghosts of the swamp” have an estimated survival rate of only 24 hours in the wild due to their sensitivity to direct UV radiation and blatant inability to blend in because of their lack of camouflage coloration. While living at the Georgia Aquarium, the pair will be kept out of the sun, and their diet will be supplemented with vitamin D3 to make up for this lack of ultraviolet radiation.
The American alligator species is more than 150 million years old and is the largest reptile in North America, growing up to 15 feet in length and weighing 1,000 pounds. It was first listed as an endangered species in 1967 due to loss of habitat and market hunting. A combined effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state wildlife agencies in the South, and the creation of large, commercial alligator farms saved these unique animals. In 1987, the Fish and Wildlife Service pronounced the American alligator fully recovered and consequently removed the animal from the list of endangered species.