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Why ducklings are yellow, what the evolutionary background for this? How could it help to survive?


I agree with comment below, I did remember then that ducks are wild animals too (when I asked the question I imagined domesticated ducklings as widely pictured in media), but anyway it is interesting to know why the domesticated ducklings are yellow now. What is the reason of selection drove such coloration to young ducks or yellow pigment is just a side effect?

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Most wild ducklings are not yellow as far as I know, but in more "helpful" colors. Chicken ducklings emerged from selective breeding, no need for them be able to mimic their environment. – skymningen Aug 26 '13 at 9:41

Wild ducklings, like these baby Mallard ducks, are in fact typically only partly yellow:

Photo by TheBrockenInaGlory via Wikimedia Commons, used under the CC-By-SA 3.0 license.

While I'm no expert, I would guess that the mottled yellow-brown coloring of the juveniles is, at least partially, protective coloration, just like the somewhat similar pattern on the adult female's feathers. While it may appear conspicuous on open water, ducks in their natural habitat will often seek shelter among reeds and other vegetation, where the irregular pattern of light and shadow would create a very effective camouflage for the ducklings.

As for the all-yellow ducklings of domestic ducks, these presumably arose via elimination of the darker parts of the coloring as a result of selective breeding, perhaps as a side effect of artificial selection for the white adult plumage found in many domestic ducks today.

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Good to know that they're still alarmingly cute with their natural colourings though! – Rory M Mar 12 '14 at 10:18

It doesn't need to help it survive, evolution has no intent and not all traits are advantageous. It might just be random, genetic drift or something, a bottleneck effect, any of these things.

In the wild the yellow ones will hardly live long enough to reproduce though.

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Thank you for the non answer. The point of this question was to speculate – portforwardpodcast Jul 16 '15 at 3:51
Thank you for a useless comment. – Dan Horvat Jul 27 '15 at 17:25

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