What's the Difference Between Albino and Leucistic?

leucistic albatross
A leucistic laysan albatross chick spreads its wings. Jaymi Heimbuch/MNN Photo Pool/Flickr

This all-white Laysan albatross chick stands out from the rest. Laysan albatross chicks are a slate grey color, with a dark grey bill and very dark grey feet. Instead this chick is powder white all over, and has a pale pink bill and pale pink feet. And yet, it is not albino. The give-away is in the eyes.

Albinism is a condition in which there is an absence of melanin, which gives color to the skin, feathers, hair and eyes. Vertebrates with albinism are not only white (or sometimes pale yellowish) in color but they also have very pale eyes, often pink or red in color as the blood vessels show through. Leucism, on the other hand, is a partial loss of pigmentation, which can make the animal have white or patchily colored skin, hair, feathers and so on, but the pigment cells in the eyes are not affected by the condition.

Leucisim is often mistaken for albinism, but they are two very different conditions. So next time you see an animal you think is albino, look to see if it is only mostly white and, importantly, take a look at the eyes.