Some of you may recall my post about a baby white capybara born on Christmas day. I said she was born in Bolivia but that was not true. She was actually born at M’Bopicuá Breeding Station in Uruguay. Her caretaker, Juan Villalba-Macias, wrote me and explained my mistake. He also told me she is doing great and he sent some photos of her for me to share with my readers (after the break).
Blancanieves is an albino. That means she is unable to make the pigment that gives us capybaras our color. Some people wrote me and were concerned about her health. It is true that albinism can be very bad for animals and for people. In horses, there is a gene called “lethal white” and foals with that gene don’t develop correctly and always die right after they are born. Paint horses have a color called Medicine Hat where they are all white except their ears. Those horses are usually deaf. Cats have a similar problem and I think dogs do too. I don’t think we know yet if Blancanieves is deaf but rodents are not closely related to cats, dogs or horses so they is no reason to assume that she is.
Albinism is always recessive. That is because an albino animal or person is missing a gene necessary to make the pigment. But there are two copies of every gene. If Blancanieves ever has babies with a normal colored capybara, all of her babies will be normal colored (I call it sorrel). They will have one broken copy of the gene from Blancanieves and one working copy from their father. That is what geneticists call heterozygous. The working copy will probably make enough pigment that the babies will be sorrel just like their father but it is possible they might be a little lighter colored.
Because albinism is recessive, it is not possible to tell if her siblings, like her brother pictured above, have two normal colored genes or one normal gene and one albino gene. They could be heterozygous just like Blancanieves babies would be.
Albino animals and people do have trouble with their skin and eyes which are very sensitive to the sun. That is one reason they don’t do well in the wild. Another is that they are too easy for a predator to spot and fixate on. Little Blancanieves would find it hard to hide from a jaguar, especially at night.