The bird's pale coat is believed to be caused by leucism, a genetic condition affecting pigment.
Wildlife photographer Yves Adams has captured an image never before caught on camera: a yellow penguin. The bird had been photographed in South Georgia, where the Belgian photographer was traveling on a multi-month expedition back in December 2019. It is believed to be the first official photo of the animal on the record.
According to The Independent, the meringue-colored bird was spotted in the vast King penguin colony Adams and his crew was documenting. His eyes landed on its strange yellow hue while he was unpacking safety supplies.
“I’d never seen or heard of a yellow penguin before. There were 120,000 birds on that beach and this was the only yellow one there,” Adams told The Independent. “They all looked normal except for this one. It really was something else. It was an incredibly unique experience.”
The penguin's light tint is likely caused by leucism, a genetic condition that affects the levels of melanin needed to create pigment. Species affected by the condition possess pale-toned skin, hair, or plumage, so instead of sporting the classic black-and-white tux of its brethren, the penguin claimed a sunny yellow shade instead.
Contrary to albinism which is a complete absence of pigment, leucism results in incomplete coloring that doesn't always impact the entire body. The Australian Antarctic Program notes the condition can be expressed on a spectrum, varying from single feathers to whole coats.
South Georgia has had their fair share of unusual animal sightings. In April 2019, National Geographic reported on pale-toned king penguins and fur seals that were caught on camera by photographer Jeff Mauritzen. Both animals had light brown coats likely caused by a rare genetic mutation.
Despite there being some debate regarding the cause of its pale coloring—it's a toss-up between leucism and albinism among experts, who suggest testing may be in order—it's undeniable this penguin is a sight to behold and a treat for nature-lovers around the globe.
“It was heaven that he landed by us," Adams said. "If it had been 50 meters away, we wouldn’t have been able to get this show of a lifetime.”
Have you ever seen King penguins before in person? Would you ever travel to South Georgia to see them? Let us know in the comments.