Update on Blancanieves

Blancanieves exploring with her brother

Blancanieves exploring with her brother

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).

Juan holding Blancanieves

Juan holding Blancanieves

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.

Juan's wife, Dany, with a rapidly-growing Blancanieves

Juan's wife, Dany, with a rapidly-growing Blancanieves

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.

Blacanieves_04

Blancanieves with her brother

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.

9 comments to Update on Blancanieves

  • Caplin: great post! I had no idea you were so knowledgeable in the field of genetics! Do you have a biology degree that you’re hiding?

  • Martin

    Recessive, heterozygous and albinism – you’re the most educated rodent I’ve known… : ) =

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  • Lynn Marcotte

    I was afraid I would fall more in love w/ Blancanieves…but no fear you are still my #1 capybara…but she is cute!

  • Heather

    “Lethal whites” also occur in guinea pigs. It’s a genetic problem carried by the genes for specific color patterns (roan and dalmatian). Lethal whites are blind and deaf, they have problems with their teeth, and they often have other health problems. Most white guinea pigs with pink eyes are not lethals, though.

    Blancanieves looks like my white piggy.
    (Approved: 2010/06/09)

  • Alma

    Hi Caplin!

    How is Blancanieves now? Is she fine?

    Please, we need fotos ;)

  • Caplin Rous

    Sadly, Blancanieves died at about six months old. She had a urinary tract deformity as is common with albino animals. Poor little baby!

  • Jeanine Tsunoda

    alibinisim is a genetic anomally, of course there are no cures for it.’

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  • Meagan Ohmann

    Albinism refers to a group of inherited conditions. People with albinism have little or no pigment in the eyes, skin and hair. Besides looking different, which may cause social problems, albinos also have various impairments. In the most severe form of albinism (called oculocutaneous albinism), those affected appear to have hair, skin, and iris color that are white or pink as well as vision defects. This article mainly concentrates on the eye problems resulting from albinism. The eyes need melanin pigment to develop normal vision. Because of that people with albinism have impaired vision. The skin also needs pigment for protection from sun damage so albinos sunburn themselves very easily and have increased risk of getting skin cancer. Less common types of albinism can also involve other problems. ..

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