By Jessica Arellano
He might be paler than his crocodile mates, but this saltwater croc is just as strong and tough as they are. And as hungry!
He’s rather rare though because he has a condition called leucism.
Grahame Webb is a croc expert at Crocodylus Park, a crocodile research centre and zoo in Darwin.
“It’s not really an albino,” says Professor Webb. “[Leucism] is more a partial white. It’s a genetic defect.”
Leucistic crocs can have white patches on their back or their head, but most tend to come out white with black spots.
Living to a ripe old age
Although there hasn’t been much research done about leucism in crocodiles, Professor Webb says it doesn’t seem to affect their health.
“Saltwater crocs can [live] well into their 70s or 80s, and possibly get to 100,” he says.
“And we know that some of these [leucistic] crocs can live to a ripe old age too.”
Although it’s rare, it does happen reasonably often.
“Every year, say in every 3,000 or 4,000 eggs, you get one or two leucistic crocs,” he says.
Vulnerable in the wild
Tate Chambers, an animal keeper and head tour guide at Crocodylus Park, says there are a few leucistic crocs there, but they are less likely to survive in the wild.
“About half of the wild hatchlings tend to get eaten up by wild animals, like birds and snakes, so leucistic crocodiles are far more likely to get eaten first because they stand out,” he says.
“So that’s probably why they are so rare, because they are selected out of the system.”
Bigger, tougher, bolder
What is leucism?
It’s a bit like albinism, which is a condition that makes animals’ skin and hair become white because it has no colour pigments. It happens in humans, too.
SOURCE Professor Grahame Webb
But Professor Webb says he saw a leucistic croc in the wild recently and it looked bigger, tougher and bolder than the other crocs.
“It’s a strange thing with some of the crocs when they are growing,” he says. “If they are dominant, they can go lighter in colour … and the leucistic one was bolder and tougher than all the others, so maybe [leucism is] an advantage.”