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An extremely rare baby white turtle has just been shown to the world for the very first time. The tiny, red-eyed reptile has pigment-less skin and a pale carapace caused by a genetic disorder known as albinism. Zookeepers say there is a 1 in 100,000 chance of an albino turtle.
The white tortoise is one of two Galápagos giant tortoises (Chelonoidis niger), which recently hatched at Tropiquarium, a zoo in Servion, Switzerland. The pair of eggs were laid by a 220-pound (100-kilogram) female on February 11; The albino baby hatched on May 1st and its darker sibling emerged on May 5th. The baby turtles weighed just 50 grams each at birth and were initially hand-reared by keepers in incubators before being returned to their mother at the zoo in June 3, acc Reuters.
“We were surprised to discover an albino baby,” zoo officials said wrote in a statement. “This is the first time in the world that an albino Galápagos tortoise has been born and kept in captivity,” and there are no documented cases in the wild, they added. The team also speculated that giving birth to a white turtle could be up to five times rarer than giving birth to an albino human, which is around 1 in 20,000 humans, according to the study National Organization on Albinism and Hypopigmentationa nonprofit organization that provides information and resources about albinism to people in the United States and Canada.
Albino animals are unable to produce a skin pigment known as melanin, which gives color to the skin, hair, eyes, and feathers — and in this case, the turtle’s shell. Albino animals often appear to have red eyes because their eyes lack pigment, so they appear the same color as the blood vessels beneath the eye’s surface.
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Albinism is a genetic condition, meaning it is passed from parents to offspring. However, since it is a recessive trait, both parents must have and pass on a copy of the gene. Since the parents usually only have one copy of the albino gene (unless they are also albino), they appear in the animal’s typical colors.
It’s unclear how long the albino cub could survive. Galápagos giant tortoises are the largest tortoises on Earth and can live more than 100 years in the wild. However, albinism can make animals more vulnerable to damage from the sun ultraviolet Radiating and prone to other health complications such as impaired vision and hearing. It also makes animals that are normally darker colored more visible to predators. This means that animals with albinism often don’t survive very long and die before they can pass on their genes – which explains why the disease is so rare. But if properly cared for in captivity, they can lead relatively healthy lives.
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Breeding Galápagos giant tortoises in captivity can be challenging. The mating rituals of these giant reptiles can be quite aggressive: males repeatedly ram the females’ carapaces with their own and sometimes bite the females’ legs before mounting them. The males also produce very loud and deep moaning noises during sex, which has helped inspire the roaring sounds of dragons from HBO’s hit fantasy show Game of Thrones.
As with most reptiles, the sex of Galápagos giant tortoises is determined by the temperature at which the eggs are hatched. In this species, warmer conditions cause the turtles to become females, and lower temperatures produce males, the researchers said San Diego Zoo. The sex of the new cub pair is uncertain because there are no physical differences between males and females at this age, according to Reuters.
Zoos are the only places where juvenile Galápagos giant tortoises, albino or not, can be seen. In the wild, juveniles seem to “disappear” until they are about five years old. Researchers aren’t exactly sure where the babies go, but scientists suspect the young tortoises spend their early years hiding in the forest undergrowth to avoid their only natural predator: Galápagos hawks (Buteo galapagoensis), according to the Zoological Society of London (opens in new tab) (ZSL). No one is sure how the tiny turtles spend those so-called lost years, but when they reappear, they’re too big for the predatory birds to carry away, ZSL says.
Captive breeding in zoos is a very important tool in the conservation of these giant tortoises, which have become rare in the wild. Wild turtle populations in Galápagos were severely affected by early European explorers, whalers, and naval crews who hunted turtles for long voyages across the seas as a source of oil and food. Scientists believe there were once around 200,000 giant tortoises on the Galápagos Islands, which are named for the tortoises (the word “Galápagos” comes from an archaic Spanish word for “tortoise”), but today there are only around 15,000, like that Galapagos Islands Trust.
Experts also believe that warmer temperatures are caused by climate change could skew sex ratios among tortoise pups, which could impact future reproduction in the wild. (As more babies are born female, there are fewer males to mate with, reducing genetic diversity in wild populations.)
Originally published on Live Science.
https://www.livescience.com/albino-galapagos-giant-tortoise Tiny white tortoise baby is the “first of its kind”