Mutant creatures of the air

From Matthew we get a tweet of an albino bat. It sure sticks out from the other bats, and I hope it will be okay.

This is a true mutant, unlike my favorite bat, the Honduran white bat (Ectoyphylla alba), which lives in the tropics and makes nests for itself by folding together Heloconia leaves. As far as I know it’s the only species of white bat on Earth. When I was in Costa Rica in the early seventies, doing a graduate course in tropical ecology, I went on a night walk and we found one of these bats in a leaf. We also mist-netted one, which I got to hold in my (gloved) hand. I promptly fell in love (photos from Wikipedia):

Here’s a group, probably a male and his harem, sacked out for the night. They look like cotton balls!

Here’s another photo of a “bat train” from Animal Spot. They are adorable!

Reader Don found a report at of a yellow Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) in Alabama. I’ve never seen one of these before. The site reports this:

An extremely rare cardinal has birders and biologists flocking to Shelby County, Alabama this week, as images of a yellow cardinal have circulated around social media.

Jeremy Black Photography

Auburn University biology professor Geoffrey Hill said the cardinal in the photos is an adult male in the same species as the common red cardinal, but carries a genetic mutation that causes what would normally be brilliant red feathers to be bright yellow instead.

Alabaster resident Charlie Stephenson first noticed the unusual bird at her backyard feeder in late January and posted about it on Facebook. She said she’s been birding for decades but it took her some time to figure out what she was seeing.

. . . Hill — who has literally written books on bird coloration — said the mutation is rare enough that even he, as a bird curator and researcher has never seen one in person.

“I’ve been birdwatching in the range of cardinals for 40 years and I’ve never seen a yellow bird in the wild,” Hill said. “I would estimate that in any given year there are two or three yellow cardinals at backyard feeding stations somewhere in the U.S. or Canada.

They’re keeping the location secret because birders will mob the site if they knew where it was. Here’s a video of this bird:

There are also leucistic cardinals lacking melanin pigment. This one doesn’t seem to be a true albino as its eyes aren’t pink:

Speaking of mutant cardinals, here’s a gynandromorph cardinal (half male/half female), probably reflecting a chromosome abnormality in the bird. This was sent by reader Brian Peer, who photographed it in Illinois. My piece on this was one of the most popular posts I’ve ever made.



  1. Mark Reaume
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    TIL yesterday (which may have been common knowledge), bats make up 20% of all mammalian species (~1200).

  2. Posted February 23, 2018 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  3. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 12:26 pm | Permalink


  4. busterggi
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Almost a year ago I spotted a yellow cardinal in the next yard. I reported it to my online birding group and there was a discussion – some folks said that young cardinals are sometimes yellow and that diet affects their coloration but I don’t know one way or the other.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 23, 2018 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

      Your link isn’t working for me.

  5. Merilee
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Love the yellow cardinal! What’s with the pointy nose on the bat??

    • David Coxill
      Posted February 23, 2018 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      I think it is something to do with how they use echo location .

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted February 23, 2018 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

        Yes. In particular, I believe it is to focus the vocalizations that it sends out.

        • Merilee
          Posted February 23, 2018 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

          Makes sense, Mark.
          I agree about albino animals not being as pretty but assume it’s the rarity of them that’s appealing.

          • David Coxill
            Posted February 24, 2018 at 7:48 am | Permalink

            I once saw an Albion Raccoon in a small zoo in Canada ,looked really horrible .

    • Liz
      Posted February 23, 2018 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      I agree. Such a stunningly beautiful color.

  6. nicky
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    What is this fascination with Albino animals? White lions, albino pythons, bats, etc.?
    Note, I do not want to disparage albino animals, but generally I find the coloured ones more beautiful. I do not understand the fetish.

    • Mark R.
      Posted February 23, 2018 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s solely based on rarity. I agree colored animals are prettier. And true albinos with red eyes are sort of creepy imo. Though I love the mutants like the yellow cardinal and the red/white cardinal.

    • Posted March 4, 2018 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      The animation of life combined with the shining purity of snow.

  7. Posted February 23, 2018 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    There is at least one more mostly-white bat, the Northern Ghost Bat, which I saw in western Ecuador. Picture here:

    These supposedly mimic wasp nests.

  8. Posted February 23, 2018 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    We Are All Mutants!™

  9. Posted February 23, 2018 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    I love these!

  10. Darren Garrison
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Does that white bat pee pink?

  11. rickflick
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    The Honduran bat is very cute. If I ever attend a costume party, I’d like to create a mask just like that.

  12. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted February 24, 2018 at 1:11 am | Permalink

    “Here’s a group…sacked out for the night”.

    Are they not nocturnal?

  13. Posted February 24, 2018 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Absolutely beautiful.

  14. Hempenstein
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    The first half of this was my immediate take the other day – the other half just now.

    That yellow cardinal probably a mutation in an enzyme at or near the end of the pathway that produces the red pigment, resulting in a molecule lacking one or two substituents (eg a hydroxyl group) that happens to be yellow. (Perhaps the same pigment that goldfinches have? – If it is, engineering that enzyme into a goldfinch could produce a rubyfinch. Or something like that. House finches have red pigment, so it’s not unlikely they may use the same pigment pathway.)

    • Hempenstein
      Posted February 26, 2018 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      Update: Melanin is mentioned as the pigment. I didn’t think that was right but also figured that whatever it was, the bird was making it itself. Turns out both are wrong. Seems it’s carotenoids acquired from the diet. (IIRC, that’s how salmon get their flesh color, too.) Suspect the yellow birds are from either malabsorption or hypermetabolism of the red carotenoid(s?).

      Next question, I guess, is if goldfinches are carotenoid yellow, why aren’t they red? And how do you get multi-colored parrots? The list goes on…

  15. Posted February 26, 2018 at 4:18 am | Permalink

    “sacked out for the night” – um – the day!

  16. Posted February 26, 2018 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Is there any (non-destructively) way to tell if the white/red cardinal is hermaphroditic?

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