Emperor penguins are considered the icons of Antarctica. No other penguin species stris emotions as strongly as this largest penguin species, not least thanks to its special coloration. The black back and the white belly are outstanding and are used for camouflage especially under water, the colored area probably for individual recognition. This black and white color is characteristic of penguins. A deviation seems particularly peculiar, especially a completely black color. This is exactly what a film team from the BBC discovered when creating a series for the hit series “Dynasties”.
Filming crews for nature documentaries are always looking for special motifs and rare stories. But what a BBC crew discovered in a colony of emperor penguins may have surprised them, too: a virtually all black emperor penguin. The adult animal marched straight past the filmers and, like the other animals, did not seem to notice the film crew. Virtually all parts, which are normally white or light in an emperor penguin (abdomen, wing undersides, ear spot), are black in the animal. Only a few white spots on the wings and abdomen can be seen. Also the distinctive colorful ear spot on the side was darker and not as bright as with the other penguins. Otherwise, the animal corresponds to a normal emperor penguin. The lower half of the beak is also colored normally. This part is also important, since it is probably used for individual recognition.
The black coloration comes from a genetic mutation, melanism. More melanin, a black pigment, is produced in the body, even in areas that should normally be bright. The mutation can be inherited, but is recessive, which means that it can only occur if the information has been passed from both parents to the offspring and is there pure, so to speak. However, it is not entirely clear for penguins as our knowledge of coloring comes mainly from pet breeding. On the other side, science knows leucism and the extreme form, albinism, in which the color pigments are partially or completely absent. Melanism is a very rare genetic mutation and has been known within penguins mainly in adélie, chinstraps, gentoos and king penguins. But researchers assume that even partial melanism, i.e. only a partial black coloration, already has a chance of only 1:250 million. A virtually complete melanism is likely to be even rarer. Therefore, the question that the BBC then shows at the beginning of the recordings in the film is quite justified: “Is this the rarest penguin in the world?” Apparently, the mutation is not harmful to the animals, as many reach the adult stage and can also successfully reproduce. This emperor penguin also seems to be well-fed and healthy. Whether the special coloration increases the chances with the opposite sex, however, is not known.
Source: BBC, iflscience.com