What is the difference between Mutant and Variant? What's their limitation (If there are)?

If you see one or some individuals different from the typical phenotype of this species, what should we describe it? I know this is a problem for both morphology and genetics but most of the time we don’t know how the gene is. In which situation should we use either of the two to be more accurate?

I’m not sure of the specific context, but I would go with “variant” myself if the genetic status is unknown. I also see “morph” used if the phenotype has been observed before and is somewhat known.


Although mutant has a specific meaning (change in DNA), both mutant and variant are used in a general way. Doesn’t really matter which you use. Form and morph are other good terms for this.

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Mutant is used for an individual that is unusual and outside the normal range of variation. For example, a fly with an extra vein in one wing or a plant with proliferated leaves. Variant is usually used for a relatively consistent morphological type (which may be a genetic population or something environmentally induced, like growing in a certain habitat or on a particular host) that is different from the typical form.


From a scientific point of view, the term morphotype should be used - a concept defining a separate unit in terms of morphology, for example, a group of plants belonging to one taxon but with a clearly different appearance. The diversity of morphotypes distinguished among individuals of one species may have a genetic basis, but they do not have to be genetically determined, but may result from phenotypic plasticity.

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There are the some examples in plants and some examples in animals. I grow plants as hobby. We have new varieties of adeniums imported in recent years. In 1980s, there was only one or two common ones. The flowers have been selected for double petals and different colours. In a few plants, the leaves have strange shapes. I read that in horticulture, seeds are exposed to some types of radiation in order to induce the changes in genes. Natural variation is slow. With intentional exposure, the process is faster. I’m not playing around with radiation. Just for info only. I guess mutants also may happen inside tissue cultured flasks for orchids and other plants. Orchids are often selected for peloric forms, and 4N genes. Peloric orchids may represent a mutation. The flowers can be consistently peloric or appear occasionally same as the sports that occur in roses, hibiscus, bougainvillea.
The mutations in animals, I look up Google Images. There are the frogs with many hind legs, and various monstrosities of different animals. These traits may be more random than what I’d think is natural variations. Natural variations may be more likely to be caused by geographic differences, isolation, and other factors.

We had a one eyed frog in our garden years ago. Striped pattern on his head continued neatly over where the second eye should have been. He didn’t last long.


Except for obviously abnormal type, what should we call a normal shape individual but with very different color or pattern?

I sometimes use the word “atypical” for plants which differ from the holotype but are not outside the range of variation for the species. Some species I logged recently appeared to be growing near the limit of their heat and drought tolerance, and so were stunted and with slightly different foliage than the species when grown in wetter and cooler habitat.

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In zoology, the term aberrant is often used. This is usually applied to small groups of relatively uncommon forms, as opposed to the more regularly occurring forms which are usually called morphs.

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+1 this is how I’ve understood these terms as well.

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I agree if the “mutant” characteristic is genetic but not if it’s a developmental abnormality caused by the environment and not a change in the genome.

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I think is morph or variant. For plants , var alba or var flava are sometimes seen after the scientific names. Morph, variant, mutant are terms I use in a general manner. There is no commonly available equipment that is able to determine the causes of the variation, so it is by inference.

Letting me remind of a kind of katydid which is green in normal situation. However three totally orange individuals are observed.in two close location, while normal green individuals also occur here. The orange color makes it very obvious among green leaves. To me it is sort of like Albinism. So I guess it could be a mutant.
You can see it here

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