Melanistic zebras aren’t all-black, though on occasion they come close. Instead, the mutation acts on the width of the black stripes, crowding out the white to varying degrees. Sometimes the effect is startling and unusual, depending on the strength of the melanistic gene and how it acts on certain individuals.
(image via: TrekNature)
Melanism is rare among zebras, probably because so few afflicted individuals live long enough to produce progeny who might carry the trait forward to future generations. Think about it: life’s tough on the African plains, and blending in with the herd is a matter of life and death. Standing out against the background isn’t exactly a strong survival strategy.
At the risk of mixing metaphors, we declare melanistic rabbits to be the black sheep of the bunny family. Not that this bothers them much… who has time to be bothered when every hawk in the neighborhood is noting your every movement while drooling up a storm. It’s enough to make a poor rabbit wish he had some green genes to express. Paging Mr. Greenjeans!
(image via: Penny’s Hot Birding and Life)
You won’t see melanistic bunnies advertising bathroom tissue, toting egg-filled Easter baskets, or taking Elmer Fudd down the garden path and that’s just wrong. Why don’t we have black toilet paper, by the way? We should, dang-nabbit, and when we do, melanistic rabbits will be there for their long-awaited photo opp!
Darkwing Duck returns! Melanistic mallards both male and female can exhibit melanism though actually encountering specimens in the wild is very unusual. As with any animal subject to predation from carnivores, standing out from one’s fellows is a no-no; you want to fly under the radar, not into it.
(image via: John Atte Kiln)
Melanism affects a creature’s exterior coat of skin, hair, feathers and sometimes the beak (if applicable) and nails so duck-hunters have no need to shy away from eating the meat of melanistic ducks. This avoids situations where one might ask for dark or darker meat.
Melanistic Frogs & Toads
Though toad tadpoles are usually all-black, adults display a range of dull coloration from ochre red to dull gray. Black toads are out of the ordinary, as are black frogs. These creatures sport camouflaged skin tones and patterns to avoid a wide range of predators; contrast is most definitely NOT their friend.
(image via: Field Herp Forum)
Melanism can affect the level of pigmentation in an animal’s eyes but that level varies from one individual to the next. The melanistic American Toad above retains its typically golden irises, which contrast nicely with its matte black, knobby and warty skin.
Jaguars are the Americas’ largest Big Cats and while melanistic specimens are rare, they’re relatively well known to both ancient and modern society. The nature of the melanism is such that the jaguar’s complex and distinctive pattern of rosette markings is subsumed by dark pigmentation, but not completely obscured. The effect is similar to certain silk fabric and is known as “ghost striping”.
(image via: Touristmaker)
Black Jaguars are comparatively easy to propagate in captivity because the gene for melanism is dominant, as opposed to the gene for melanistic leopards (black panthers) which is recessive. AS such, many zoos across the globe feature black jaguars and we can enjoy viewing photographs of them if one isn’t available for up close & personal encounters at your local zoo or animal park.
(image via: Squidoo/Cheerfulmadness)
Not all animals are prey to melanism, as one must have the gene for the condition to begin with. It’s interesting to wonder what theoretical melanistic creatures would look like, however, and the above rendering of a “Black Lion” gives us a clue. If anything, the infusion of dark pigment gives the King of Beasts an even more majestic appearance – not that he really needs one. Cut, fade to black…