Melanistic, Piebald, and Albino Whitetail Deer
Genetic Mutations Rarely Seen in the Wild
Whitetail deer can be found in just about any environment. However, a deer's mottled brown coat provides perfect camouflage for living in forested areas. Often, these shy animals blend in to their surroundings to avoid being seen. When spotted by a predator, the deer relies on its speed to make an escape. Some whitetails have too much pigmentation in their fur or lack color all together, making survival a struggle. These deer rarely live a full life, and are very elusive in the wild.
Albino deer, although beautiful, are rarely seen in the wild. Albinism is a recessive trait, which means that both parents have to be carriers of the gene in order to pass it on to their offspring. While some deer have light fur due to other genetic mutations, a true albino lacks pigment in their fur, hooves, antlers and eyes.
A deer with albinism rarely lives a full life. Their white fur stands out against the browns and greens of the forest, making them an easy target for predators and hunters. On top of that, most albinos have poor eyesight. Because of this, most of these deer only live to be two or three years old. Due to their low numbers, many states have outlawed hunting albino deer.
Piebald deer are white with brown or black patches and spots. The genetic defect that produces piebald deer also causes other problems, including short legs, scoliosis, a bowed nose, deformed hooves, and a small bottom jaw. Although these deer are rarely seen in the wild, piebalds are much more common than albino and melanistic deer. Like albinos, their white fur makes them an easy target for predators.
It may be unusual to see an albino deer, but it's even less common to see a melanistic deer. In fact, most people have never heard of this genetic mutation. Melanistic deer produce too much of the pigmentation called melanin, making them darker than normal deer. The rare "black deer" can most commonly be found in a small area of Texas, but they have also been seen in other parts of the continental United States.
Because these animals are so rare, scientists still don't much about them. Many researchers speculate that the melanistic trait developed to help them survive in areas with thick, dark vegetation. These deer range in color from dark gray to solid jet black.