If you’ve ever walked into a pet store and seen “albino corn snakes” or “albino red-eared slider turtles” for sale, you know that many pets labeled albino in stores or by breeders don’t look like a typical albino. After all, albinos are supposed to be white with pink or pale red eyes, and most so-called albino reptiles are pale yellow, orange, or pink, often with elaborate color patterns, and sometimes even have brown eyes.
What Are Pigmented “Albino” Reptiles Really?
Most reptiles labeled as albino that are not in fact completely lacking in all color pigments are actually amelanistic, not albino. This means they lack the pigment melanin. Melanin is the same substance that gives human skin and hair its color. In fact, humans and most mammals only have one pigment, melanin. For that reason, there is no difference between albinism (lack of all pigment) and amelanism (absence of melanin) in most mammals.
Reptiles and amphibians, however, often possess at least two pigments. Among the most common are xanthin (yellow) and etherin (red). An amelanistic reptile or amphibian, therefore, may still have pale yellow, orange, or red pigmentation. To make matters even more confusing, some true albinos do have a small amount of very pale pink or very pale yellow coloration on their bodies. Leucistic individuals also exist– these have white bodies and very pale blue eyes.
How Can You Tell if Your Reptile is A True Albino?
If you have a reptile that you bought as a supposed “albino,” but you aren’t sure if it really is an albinistic specimen, the best thing you can do is contact an expert in the specific species (and sub-species, if applicable) that you own. Each reptile species is unique. Only someone who has seen true albinos, amelanistic individuals, and various other rare color morphs of that species will be able to determine visually if your individual reptile is an albino or not.
In some cases, it may be impossible to determine whether or not you have a true albino just by looking at the specimen in question, even for an expert. If this is true, the only way to tell the difference between an albino and a different color morph might be to perform test breedings with specimens whose genetics are known, or get a genetic test (if it’s available for your species). However, breeding any animal is a huge responsibility, and it takes years of study and practice to consistently, successfully breed reptiles. If you didn’t already intend to use a particular specimen for breeding, unless it’s of particular interest to the conservation of the species that you determine whether or not it’s a true albino, please just enjoy your pet and let the issue of its true color rest.