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I have an alien I am designing and I want there to be an individual to be a play off of my main character (who is albino.) The aliens are, unknown to the human settlers, an enigmatically intelligent species, capable of using chromatophores to communicate with one another. They are black and mottled at rest and have limited muscles to change their skin texture.

As they are very cleverly camouflaged, I want the alien that accompanies my main character to be easily captured, and to match my main character.

I've searched through a lot of research but can't find anything about albino octopi. I assume they don't exist, die early, or just aren't recognizable to us as albino.

So, a) What is the feasibility of there being an "albino" in a species that uses color to communicate, and

b) Would they still maintain their chromatophores to camouflage when out of rest (not engaging chromotophores)? and

c) Could they lack their primary pigment at homeostasis and maintain their communication mode?

These are the issues/questions I boil it down too. Please try to be kind in the replies. I am not a scientist and I am willing to learn.

I am also willing to clarify if need be. Thank you!

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    $\begingroup$ keep on mind albinism is only a lack of melanin production, any other pigment is fine. mimic octopuses are stark white when no chromatophores are active, it makes chromatophores work better, chromatophores on a black background will have little to no effect. think of it this way, colored stain is more noticeable on a white or black background? White should be their default coloration, you need some strong justification for it to be otherwise. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 0:37
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    $\begingroup$ Don't worry here we are really kind, kind of ;D $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 6:32
  • $\begingroup$ So albinos or unable to change the hair color, stuck with strawberry blonde? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ @John I had thought of that for a while, but found that since octopi and other color morphing animals have color when neutral that it probably wouldn't be an issue. I'll have to think about it a bit. $\endgroup$
    – LOCHLAN
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ Possibly related question on alien skin colors: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/52595/… $\endgroup$
    – Nick T
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 19:34

2 Answers 2

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Go For It:

None of this is terribly difficult to justify for any species, let alone aliens. Biology has so much diversity in it that you can pretty much make an alien albino have any qualities that your story requires. I've worked a bit in albinism research, and there's a lot more diversity than people think.

From a strict perspective, an albino lacks the expression of eumelanin during development. It surprises most people to learn that there are brown haired, brown eyed albinos (especially in the Amish community) who are only defined as albinos because they have vision problems. Lack of eumelanin during development causes abnormalities in foveal development and the poor vision associated with albinism. The genes can turn on later, resulting in normal appearance.

So your albino alien could have any number of problems as a side effect of being albino. Since they communicate with chromophores, it might have the equivalent of a speech impediment (it can't make the visual version of an "s" sound, for example). It could have visual abnormalities that mean it can't see clearly at a distance and thus is easy to capture. It could be that camouflage is instinctive, but this individual can't get the colors right and stands out like a sore thumb.

But most intelligent species would compensate for disabilities amongst them (unless it helps your plot) and adapt language like braille or sign language among humans. This means your individual may be used to a non-standard communication style that opens up the opportunity to learn or teach "speech" to humans. Imagine, for example, they use colored cards to signal messages. Humans might not recognize chromophoric speech right away, but flash cards are more apparent.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you, this is a very concise and helpful answer! I hadn't thought of the idea of a pigment condition being a communication disability, but that is a very strong point, and would certainly help my story! $\endgroup$
    – LOCHLAN
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 17:56
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Albinism is caused by the lack of a single pigment, and can be caused by a single mutation in any of seven genes.

Consequently, your alien would need to have two kinds of pigments: those that cause it to be black and mottled, and those in the chromatophores. Ideally, there would be one pigment in the first set, thus simplifying the task of removing it. But as long as the pigment sets are distinct, your albino could communicate with chromatophores.

On the other hand, unless the chromatophores are normally active in the camouflage, it is unlikely that the albino could use its for that purpose, unless it used them deliberately by developing abnormal usage. Normal usage would mean their rest color was in part derived from the chromatophores and consequently you could not have an albino who could speak using chromatophores.

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