Difference between white and albino tigers

I have written about white and albino tigers before in separate articles. This addresses one issue: the difference between them as the internet seems to be confused as I am seeing white tigers listed under albino tigers.

In terms of appearance there is a distinct difference between a white tiger and an albino tiger. One distinguishing difference can be seen in the eyes.

The white tiger has an ice-blue eye colour while the albino tiger has pink eyes. There may be a hint of blue but essentially the eye colour is pinky/red and what you are seeing is the blood vessels in the eyeball. And the reason why you see the blood vessels is because there is no pigmentation in the iris as the genetic mutation removed it in development.

Difference between white and albino tigers
Difference between white and albino tigers. Image: MikeB
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The white tiger’s eyes are similar in that the mutation which causes an orange tiger to become white also removes pigmentation from the iris of the eye. But it looks blue. I believe this is due to refraction of light through the cornea of the eye.

There is clearly a difference even though I have stated that the blue eye colour in the white tiger and the pink eye colour in the albino tiger is caused through a lack of pigmentation in the iris. This pigmentation is called melanin.

White tiger
White tiger. Image published under a CC license.

There are other substantial differences as well between the white and albino tigers. There are a range of white tigers: white tigers with black stripes, gray stripes, red stripes and cream stripes or ghost stripes. There are no variations in the albino tiger. They are white with no markings.

You will see white tigers in zoos. I believe that there are about 300 white tigers in zoos across the planet. As you might know, they are all from one foundation tiger whose name was Mohan. Mohan’s mother was shot by a Maharajah big game hunter in India but he spared her white cub. As you can imagine, all white tigers are now heavily inbred because there’s just one foundation cat. There is a lot of uncomfortable and unethical breeding going on in zoos.

Personally, I don’t believe that there are any albino tigers left in existence. I would love to be corrected on that by someone like Sarah Hartwell who will probably correct me in any case! And I don’t mind. In fact, I like to be corrected because it adds to the article.

Genotype

And this topic is a tricky one. There is a hidden difference between white and albino tigers which is the genotype. That is the genetic mutation which causes these abnormalities in the appearance of the tigers. Remember, the white tiger is an orange Bengal tiger, a standard tiger, with the orange background colour removed and the stripes diluted.

As mentioned, the albino tiger is also a Bengal tiger with all coloration removed including the stripes.

For those interested, my research indicates that the gene that causes the orange tiger coat to become white is named SLC45A2 according to research by Chinese scientists in their study entitled: “The Genetic Basis of White Tigers”. It is published in Current Biology.

That gene might also be responsible for albinism as it is called. Although in a different study entitled: “Albinism in the domestic cat (Felis Catus) is associated with a tyrosinase (TYR) mutation, the scientists concluded that the albino appearance in domestic cats and other species is associated with tyrosinase (TYR) mutations.

AI computer’s input on the genes that cause albinism – Chat GPT

Albinism is a genetic condition that can affect cats, just as it can affect humans and other animals. In cats, albinism is typically caused by mutations in one of two genes: the Tyrosinase (TYR) gene or the Oculocutaneous Albinism II (OCA2) gene.

The TYR gene provides instructions for making an enzyme called tyrosinase, which plays a key role in the production of melanin, the pigment that gives color to the skin, hair, and eyes. Mutations in the TYR gene can result in reduced or absent tyrosinase activity, which can lead to a complete lack of melanin in the hair, skin, and eyes. This type of albinism is referred to as “tyrosinase-positive” or “complete albinism.”

The OCA2 gene, on the other hand, provides instructions for making a protein that helps to regulate the production of melanin. Mutations in the OCA2 gene can also result in reduced or absent melanin production, leading to a lack of pigment in the hair, skin, and eyes. This type of albinism is referred to as “tyrosinase-negative” or “partial albinism.”

It’s worth noting that not all cats with white fur are albinos. Some cats may have white fur due to other genetic factors or conditions, such as the Dominant White gene or the White Spotting gene. If you suspect that your cat may have albinism or another genetic condition, it’s important to consult with a veterinarian or a feline genetics specialist.

Why are white tigers white?

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