If there’s one thing science enthusiasts love, it’s getting a glimpse of a hard-to-find creature, and a new video that has gone viral this month shows a rare white moose – believed to be just one of an estimated 100 living in Sweden – as it walks through the grass and wades across a stream.
The video, which was posted by BBC News, explained that the white moose – which was spotted in the Varmland province of western Sweden – is not albino. Rather, its white coat is the result of a genetic mutation which causes it to be born with an predominantly unpigmented coat of fur.
This condition is known as piebaldism, and according to the US National Library of Medicine, it occurs a creature lacks the cells that produce melanin (the pigment which produces hair, skin and eye color). Piebaldism can affect humans, as well as horses, dogs, pigs, cats, birds and cattle.
The term piebaldism dates back to the 16th century, and was a combination of the word ‘magpie’ and the older meaning of the term ‘bald’ (‘spotted’ or ‘white’) in reference to the magpie’s black and white colored plumage. Unlike albino creatures, piedbald animals do not have red eyes, and they often have at least some blackish specks or patches of fur mixed into their coats.
How rare are piebald moose, and are they in greater danger?
Earlier this summer, two young, all-white twin moose were captured on video (along with their mother) in Norway, according to National Geographic. Experts are uncertain whether those two moose were albino or piebald, but in either case, their sighting was a rare occurrence indeed.
The calves, whose sighting was reported on back in June, were believed to be less than a month old at the time due to their size and mobility, Lee Kantar, the State Deer and Moose Biologist at Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, told Nat Geo. Kantar added that he believed that the twins would have been born in mid-May, but was unsure why they were all white.
“It’s extremely rare” to spot albino moose calves, he said, and not much more common to come across piebald ones. In fact, while Kantar told the publication that he had encountered thousands of moose while working with wildlife in the US, he had never gotten a first-hand look at one that was pure white, although he typically saw photos of one “every year or two.”
According to Nat Geo, both piebald and albino moose are protected animals in much of Canada, and hunters are prohibited from killing a moose that is predominately white in color. Albino and piebald moose have also been spotted in Alaska, which is one to nearly one-sixth of all moose in North America, the publication added.
“Although they lack the typical brown coat, it’s unknown whether white and albino moose are at a disadvantage in the wild,” said Nat Geo. Kantar explained that moose that have dark fur tend to be harder to spot in their forest habitat, and that the mothers of predominantly white moose could have a much more difficult job in keeping their young offspring safe from potential predators.
Image credit: BBC