Hey there. I was at the pet store today and saw a beautifully colored albino cornsnake; fall colors of reds+orange and a little yellow, with some white. It made me wonder, why are they called albino's if they come in such vibrant colors?
GOOD QUESTION! So basically, albinism is a condition that knocks out a pigment called melanin. This is the primary pigment in many animals, including mammals and birds. It colors skin, hair, scales, feathers, and eyes. There’s different types of melanin that produce colors on a spectrum ranging from deep black to sandy blonde. But while melanin is the primary pigment in mammals, it’s not the only pigment in reptiles! Reptiles actually have two types of pigment-producing cells. The first, melanocytes, produce melanin. In an albino animal, those are basically turned off and the skin is white or pinkish from the blood circulating beneath it. But reptiles also have what’s called chromatophores. Chromatophores produce many other pigments. Two of these are xanthophores (yellow) and erythrophores (a range of red to purplish, depending on the species). Some reptiles have iridiophores (which produce iridescent colors) and there’s two other common pigments known as guanophores and leucophores (two different versions of white). Each of these pigments is affected by different mutations! So for example, my Kenyan sand boa is anerythristic, which means that the genes that control red pigment (the erythrophores) have been turned off- giving me a black and white snake instead of a black and orange snake like a normal KSB. My ball pythons are both axanthic, which means that the genes that control yellow pigment (xanthophores) have been turned off. These snakes don’t produce these pigments, and so that changes their color!
So that snake you saw was an albino in that they don’t produce melanin! But their other pigments are unaffected by the mutation, so they can still exhibit gorgeous shades of red, yellow, and orange!