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Melanistic, Piebald, and Albino Whitetail Deer

Updated on September 11, 2012

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.

An albino buck with several normally colored does in the background
An albino buck with several normally colored does in the background | Source

Albinism

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.

A brown and white piebald deer
A brown and white piebald deer | Source

Piebald

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.

A completely black melanistic fawn
A completely black melanistic fawn | Source

Melanism

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.


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    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 5 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very interesting. Natural phenom in the Animal world is fascinating. You did a good job explaining and illustrating, thank you.

    • lainelongfellow profile image
      Author

      lainelongfellow 5 years ago from Oklahoma

      When I lived in Missouri we had several albino deer on our acreage, but since they're not protected in that state, I'm assuming they got shot during hunting season. I lived way off the grid, so most of these deer weren't afraid of humans. Unfortunately, people started exploring our driveway and coming onto our property. Someone even poached a doe during the summer, took the backstrap, and threw the rest on the side of our road.

      We also had a beige and cream colored skunk that hung around our garbage :)

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 5 years ago from America

      At a park near us they have many of the albino deer. Hunters are not supposed to shoot albino in the wild and can get in big trouble if they do. Enjoyed reading your hub. The last deer is very beautiful.

    • Theophanes profile image

      Theophanes 5 years ago from New England

      These three genes are common in mammals and have links to domestication (perhaps because people sought out these different variations to breed for novelty or perhaps there's something inherent in them that lends them to be more open to domestication. Case in point when the fur trade tried breeding their foxes to be more docile for ease of handling they started having pups with big white splotches and floppy ears. Made them useless for fur but they were trusting of humans!) In any event I enjoyed your article. We had a piebald buck born in the neighborhood this Spring but no one's seen it for awhile. SIGH. That was the first photo I have seen of a melanistic deer. Very beautiful. Hope you are lucky enough to see at least one of these anomalies. :)