T his is something that will get the wheels in my 8-year-old granddaughter's brain moving at breakneck speed. And that's a good thing, I think.
I recognized that immediately upon hearing that there is an albino alligator at the ZooAmerica in Hershey.
Hey, when was the last time any of you have seen an alligator up close, much less an albino alligator? I've seen lots of alligators in zoos and such, but I don't recall ever having seen an all-white alligator with pink eyes.
I'd have an interest in seeing that for myself since I'm curious about alligators and reptiles in general. And the fact that it's albino just adds fuel to my fire.
But my granddaughter, Anya, is in a class all to herself when it comes to having a curiosity about dinosaurs, reptiles and such. She's a walking, talking encyclopedia on the subject.
Imagine an 8-year-old child being able to name a species of dinosaur according to the alphabet. Each letter has its own dinosaur -- "A" is for Allosaurus, "B" is for Brachiosaurus ... "S" is for Stegoceras, "T" is for Tyrannosaurus Rex, etc., from A to Z.
Yes, there is a "Z" and a "Q." OK, "Z" is for Zuniceratops and "Q" is for Qantassaurus. End of discussion.
The first time I heard her do that I was amazed. From then on, I just shook my head.
But the most amazing thing occurred a couple of weeks ago when I Grandpa-sat the three grandkids for a couple of days while Mom and Dad went on a short vacation.
The two granddaughters walked out to the school bus stop, which is in front of the house next door. Two mothers walked their sons, hand-in-hand, to the bus stop -- that's a subject for another day, by the way -- and when they arrived in line somehow the subject turned to dinosaurs.
And Anya, bold as can be, immediately began lecturing the kids and adults with information about dinosaurs that I didn't know, and they didn't know, either. There certainly are people somewhere on the planet who would have known, I'm certain, but none of them were close enough to actually contribute to the conversation.
Yes, proud Grandpa was listening from a short distance away. "How do you know all of that," one dumbfounded parent finally asked. "I read," was the short and quick response from Anya.
OK, I'm bragging. I'll stop.
Anyway, Anya loves dinosaurs, and she's very curious about creepy-crawlies of all kinds. Give her a lizard-like thing to look at, and she'll spend all day checking it out. I don't know why that is; it just is.
And I suspect she's not the only child (or adult) in York County who feels that way.
So when I bumped into Rachel Dinbokowitz, the public relations person for Hershey Entertainment, and she mentioned in passing the albino alligator -- its name is Sugar -- I knew it was something I'd like to see.
And then I figured Anya would probably want to see it, too.
And then I expanded my mindset to include the rest of York County, many of whom might have an interest in seeing an albino alligator if given the chance.
Because albino alligators are pretty rare -- there are only about 100 albino alligators known to exist in the world. Here in southcentral Pennsylvania they're even more rare. Why? Well, because we're not sitting in the middle of Florida or some other marshy, swampy locale.
So the only place you'll see an alligator in these parts, albino or otherwise, is in a zoo or something like a zoo.
Like ZooAmerica in Hershey, for instance, where Sugar -- she's 4 years old, is 5-foot-6-inches long and weighs about 26 pounds -- will be showing off her white skin and pink eyes in the Southern Swamps region within the zoo.
The white color and pink eyes are the result of a genetically inherited condition that inhibits the production of melanin, the dark brown pigment responsible for natural coloration, Dinbokowitz said.
And the window of opportunity to see her is limited because the albino alligator is only going to be in Hershey until Dec. 31.
"The reason albino alligators are so rare is the average survival rate in the wild is less than 24 hours because its skin makes it an easy target for predators, and its scales are easily sunburned," Dinbokowitz said.
In captivity, however, an albino alligator can live more than 60 years.
The display will include general facts about albinism, some albino taxidermy and some examples of white animals that are not albinos, Dinbokowitz said.
It is also worthy of note that the albino alligator will be featured in the Creatures of the Night event for Halloween from Friday, Oct. 19, to Sunday, Nov. 4. You get it -- alligators and Halloween scare the daylights out of everyone.
Albino alligators are known as "swamp ghosts," because of their coloration, and are believed to bring good luck to anyone who looks the animal in the eye.
Hey, Anya and I will be there. We could use a little good luck.
Plus, I'm old and she's not.
It's sort of like Halley's Comet -- if you get a chance to see an albino alligator once in your life you ought to take it.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.