A wildlife photographer has shared a once-in-a-lifetime photo of what he believes is a “never before seen” yellow penguin.
All while leading a two-month photography expedition throughout Antarctica and the South Atlantic.
The group made a stop on an island in South Georgia to photograph a colony of over 120,000 king penguins.
Adams noticed the unusual sight when unloading some safety equipment and food onto Salisbury Plain, which he had never before seen. a penguin with such bright yellow plumage.
“I’d never seen or heard of a yellow penguin before. There were 120,000 birds on that beach and this was the only yellow one there.”
Luckily for the photographers, the almost tropical-looking penguin had landed on the beach close by to the group. So they got an amazing view of it unobstructed by the sea of penguins and seals in the area.
“We were so lucky the bird landed right where we were,” the photographer says. “Our view wasn’t blocked by a sea of massive animals. Normally it’s almost impossible to move on this beach because of them all.”
“It was heaven that he landed by us. If it had been 50 meters away we wouldn’t have been able to get this show of a lifetime.”
The penguin’s unusual yellow plumage is due to leucism, which results in a loss of pigmentation. It’s similar to albinism but the animal keeps some of its pigments.
“This is a leucistic penguin,” Adams says. “Its cells don’t create melanin anymore so its black feathers become this yellow and creamy color.”
Scientists have found that the yellow pigment in penguin feathers is chemically distinct from all other molecules that are known to give color to feathers.
“Penguins use the yellow pigment to attract mates and we strongly suspect that the yellow molecule is synthesized internally,” researcher Daniel Thomas tells Smithsonian Insider.
“[It’s] distinct from any of the five known classes of avian plumage pigmentation and represents a new sixth class of feather pigment. As far as we are aware, the molecule is unlike any of the yellow pigments found in a penguin’s diet.”
In this particular case, it’s not clear whether the yellow color of the penguin is attractive or repulsive for the opposite sex.