Melanistic Animals: What Are They and their Interesting Facts

Most people probably think that black animals are pretty common, after all, there’s plenty of black dogs and cats around, but what about an animal that isn’t supposed to be black? There are occasionally animals across a number of different species that are born black instead of their regular colour, and these are known as melanistic animals.

Melanistic Animals

List of Melanistic Animals with Interesting Facts & PicturesPin

What are Melanistic Animals?

Melanistic animals are the opposite of albino animals, which are white, and are animals that have too much melanin in their skin. Melanin is the pigment that affects the skin, hair, and eyes. The abundance of melanin then produces an animal that is either completely or partially black in colour. Unlike the eyes of an albino animal, melanistic animals have regular coloured eyes.

Types of Melanistic Animals

While many animals can be melanistic, there are also animals that cannot be melanistic. Many domestic and farm animals – such as horses, cats, dogs, sheep, cows etc – are not melanistic, instead, the black colours that you can get in those species are a result of them simply carrying the right genes which cause the black coat colours. Domestic cats aside, melanism can be found in eleven of the thirty-six species of wild cats.

Compared to the frequency of melanism in felines, it is found far less often in animals that live in the water. There are no records of melanism in sharks, but it has been found in occasionally in both species of manta ray and in some whales and dolphins.

Melanism is found in many different species of birds, although it is quite rare in birds overall. It is also rarely found in amphibians, but quite frequently in reptiles.

List of Melanistic Animals

There are many animals that can be melanistic and they include:

  • Black leopard, more commonly known as a black panther
  • Black jaguar
  • Black zebra
  • Red fox
  • Wolf
  • Rattlesnake
  • Grass snake
  • Fawn
  • King Penguin
  • Seal
  • Grey Squirrel
  • Owls
  • Flamingo
  • Cheetah
  • Manta Ray

Melanistic Animals with Facts

  • The word “melanism” comes from a Greek word that means “black pigment”.
  • In Asia and Africa a black panther means a black leopard, while in America a black panther means a black jaguar.
  • It was once thought that a “Black Jaguar” was a completely different species, but in fact, it is actually a melanistic jaguar.
  • In most black leopards it is still possible to see the traditional rosette markings in the black fur.
  • Aided by it’s black coat, the black leopard is an excellent night hunter that uses it’s stealth to stalk it’s prey.
  • Melanism is a dominant gene in jaguars which means that two-spotted jaguar parents can only produce spotted cubs, while a black jaguar can produce either spotted or black offspring.
  • Black panthers are believed to be far more aggressive than their normal-coloured counterparts.
  • Melanistic wolves are found more frequently in forest areas than anywhere else.
  • It is thought that the gene which causes melanism in wolves in North America originally came from dogs and was passed on when wolves and dogs mated and produced dog-wolf offspring.
  • Melanistic deer are much more rare than albino deer.
  • Melanistic grass snakes are smaller than normal coloured grass snakes, which leaves them more vulnerable to predators.
  • A black leopard was that photographed in Kenya in 2009 was the first time one had been officially sighted in Africa for 100 years.
  • A black flamingo that was spotted in Cyprus in 2015 was thought to be only the second sighting of one ever.
  • Research suggests that only around one in four hundred grey seals have melanism.
  • Black penguins are extremely rare, and it is thought that their all-black colour makes them easier to be seen by predators.
  • It has been rumoured that melanism exists in cougars although there is no definite proof of it.
  • Melanism is especially rare in cheetahs, although they have been spotted occasionally in both Zambia and Zimbabwe.
  • There has never been any sighting or recorded find of a black lion, although they theoretically would be able to exist.
  • Most melanistic animals are better camouflaged and able to be more successful at hunting than their regular counter-parts.
  • While there has been only a handful of truly melanistic tigers (those that are completely black), there are several pseudo-melanistic tigers. These tigers have thick black stripes that appear to block out the orange fur as they are close together.