QUESTION: I currently have a doe that is around a year-and-half old on my property in south Mississippi. This doe has more white than usual, with white going up both sides, half way to her back, and white covering most of her back legs. A few years ago, I had a similarly colored deer that we watched for about two years before it disappeared. I was later told that deer with unusual colorations often have a genetic disorder, causing most of them to have a short natural life span. My question: Is there any evidence of this short natural life span? — Curious George
ANSWER: Okay, George. I won’t monkey around with my answer. From your description, I’d say the deer you saw is what we call a “piebald,” pied meaning blotchy and of two or more colors, bald meaning white. They differ from true albinos in that they have varying amounts of brown fur, and their hooves, eyes and nose are dark. Albinos lack brown pigment; their fur is white, and eyes, nose and other soft parts are pink. Both these unusual pelages (fur colors) are the result of a recessive genetic trait.
The genes that control fur color may also control other physiological traits. Just as blue-eyed humans are more likely to have blond hair, piebald and albino bucks tend to grow smaller antlers. Albino deer also have several other recessive traits such as poor eyesight (owing to their pink eyes), which could indirectly lead to a shorter lifespan.
Because they lack the typical brown coloration that allows deer to blend into their environment, both albinos and piebalds are more susceptible to predation and hunting mortality.
Because their pink eyes are very light sensitive, albinos tend to have poor eyesight.
According to the Field Manual of Wildlife Diseases in the Southeastern United States (Davidson and Nettles, 1997) “In addition to their white coloration, many have some of the following observable conditions: bowing of the nose (Roman nose), short legs, arching spine (scoliosis), and short lower jaws.” That’s the bad news. The good news: “This genetic condition is rare with typically less than one percent of white-tailed deer being affected.”