Down in the Três Lagoas municipality of Mato Grosso do Sul state, in Brazil lives a very special individual. Alvinho is the world’s only known living albino anteater and he is just as fascinating as he is downright adorable.
Alvin was found on a ranch clinging to his mother’s back in 2022. He is a giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), the largest member of the anteater family. Alvin is a true albino rather than leucistic with a genetic mutation that affects the production of melanin, a pigment within the cells. The more melanin you produce, the darker hair, skin, and fur is. This lack of melanin means that Alvin lacks the distinctive black and gray color of his kin and instead has light-colored fur all over, even in his magnificent tail.
Alvin’s lack of the typical darker color pattern could make him more vulnerable to both predators and temperature extremes.
Image Credit: Alvin – April 2023 © Edu Fragoso | Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock
Because of this lack of typical coloration researchers at the Institute of Conservation of Wild Animals (ICAS) were concerned with how Alvin would survive. The team fitted a GPS tracking device to him so they could monitor how he was getting on and how he would adapt to the Cerrado savannas of Brazil.
Remarkably this is the second individual with albinism that was found in the area. A juvenile was found by veterinarian Débora Yogui in August 2021. Unfortunately, that juvenile was already dead when the team arrived, likely through a predation event.
“When we got there, he was already dead, but we were able to collect genetic samples that were sent to the lab for analysis,” explained Yogui in a statement sent to IFLScience. “And now, a year later, a female appeared in the same area with a small albino cub, “Alvin”, on her back. This time, we managed to put a monitoring collar in order to conduct an unprecedented study on this rare feature in these animals.”
In India, an extremely high proportion of tigers are born with the opposite genetic mutation known as melanism or in their case a variation known as pseudomelanistic expression.
The typical dark coloration of the anteater helps them not only become camouflaged against predators such as jaguars but also helps them beat the heat, filtering the Sun’s rays and keeping them at the right temperature.
“There is an ecological theory that says that albino animals living in the wild tend to be less adapted to nature, so we chose to conduct a monitoring study that will allow us to understand if they are more susceptible to the sun, heat, predators and understand more about the behavior and needs of these rare individuals,” said Nina Attias, biologist and researcher at ICAS.
Elsewhere in Brazil, anteaters have returned across the border thanks to a rewilding project in neighboring Argentina.
Almost a year later, the team happily reported that Alvinho is doing well. At a health check in May 2023 shared on the project’s Facebook page, the team reported that Alvin weighed almost 14 kilograms (30 pounds) and was 1.52 meters (5 feet). Full-grown giant anteaters weigh up to 45 kilograms (100 pounds) and reach lengths of 1.8-2.4 meters (6-8 feet).
He has also received a second GPS collar to make sure that it continues to fit and help monitor him as he grows.