Yves Adams was out for a normal expedition to capture the world with his camera lens when he happened upon the best of luck. While leading a two-month photo exhibition in the South Atlantic in December 2019 the group made a stop on an island in South Georgia. They were on their way to photograph a colony of over 120,000 king penguins. It was there they saw a rare penguin with bright yellow plumage.
Yves says that he was very fortunate that day. If the penguin had landed anywhere else he would not have been able to get such amazing shots. Yves specializes in Belgian landscape and wildlife portraits and this was a moment he would remember for the rest of his life.
“I’d never seen or heard of a yellow penguin before,” the photographer tells Kennedy News. “There were 120,000 birds on that beach and this was the only yellow one there.”
“We were so lucky the bird landed right where we were. Our view wasn’t blocked by a sea of massive animals. Normally it’s almost impossible to move on this beach because of them all.”
Typically when shooting animals like this it’s very difficult to move around because of the sheer quantity of them. King Penguins gather in huge groups and to be able to see this penguin let alone capture it on camera was a stroke of luck.
Why is the penguin yellow?
“This is a leucistic penguin,” Adams says. “Its cells don’t create melanin anymore so its black feathers become this yellow and creamy color.”
Leucism is a wide variety of conditions which result in the partial loss of pigmentation in an animal. This can cause white, pale or patchy coloration of whatever skin the animal is in be it feathers, hair, scales or cuticles. It effects everything but the eyes of the animal.
With this colorization of the animal researchers are trying to find out whether it makes it more attractive to mates or incredibly ugly. The yellow on a king penguin is generally part of what attracts mates but with this much it’s hard to say if they like it or its an eyesore.
“Penguins use the yellow pigment to attract mates and we strongly suspect that the yellow molecule is synthesized internally,” researcher Daniel Thomas tells Smithsonian Insider. “[The coloring is] distinct from any of the five known classes of avian plumage pigmentation and represents a new sixth class of feather pigment. As far as we are aware, the molecule is unlike any of the yellow pigments found in a penguin’s diet.”