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White, Albino or Piebald Deer?

Back To "Ask The Biologist?"QUESTION: I'm aware that a true albino deer is rare, and differ from white deer. It's illegal to take one here in Tennessee, and as much as I'd like having one in my trophy room, I doubt I'd shoot one even if it was legal. It would be satisfying enough just to watch an albino and hopefully photograph it. This brings me to my first question:

Last season I got a glimpse of a piebald buck! At first I thought it was a big spotted fawn, but then I saw its antlers.

White, Albino or Piebald Deer?What causes a deer to be piebald (mixed white and brown)? Would it be something along the lines of an albino mating with a normal whitetail?

Q: What are the odds of albino twin fawns being born in the wild? These pure albino twins were born on my farm last year. Will you also ascertain they are indeed albino? - Anonymous, from Tennessee

ANSWER: I actually covered this topic in the November 2011 issue of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine.

To summarize, piebalds and albinos result from a recessive genetic trait that causes a lack of or total absence of pigment. Albino animals totally lack body pigment. This means their fur, feathers and skin are white, and eyes, nose and other soft parts are pink.

It's difficult to tell from your photo if these fawns have brown eyes or noses, but the pink inner ears suggest they lack pigmentation, so there is good likelihood they are true albinos.

Piebalds do not completely lack dark pigment, have varying amounts of brown fur, and their hooves, eyes and nose are dark.

Both are exceedingly rare - estimated at less than one percent - under natural conditions, and the phenomenon is often localized.

In the wild, white fur and markings place animals at an immediate and selective disadvantage. Lacking their typical protective coloration, white deer are more visible, making them easier for predators and hunters to locate.

The genes that control fur color are pleitropic, meaning they control multiple phenotypic traits.

Albino deer also have several other recessive traits such as poor eyesight, because of their pink eyes.

According to the Field Manual of Wildlife Diseases in the Southeastern United States, "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."

Such maladies are less common in piebalds, though they often have smaller than normal antlers.

From a purely objective biological standpoint, there is no reason to protect white deer.

In fact, a pretty good case can be made why you should be allowed to hunt them.

Their pelage (coat) is the result of a recessive genetic mutation that places deer at a selective disadvantage and often results in other physical maladies.  Protecting animals with such traits increases their frequency through inbreeding, perpetuating physically inferior deer.

Conversely, protecting white deer probably won't cause any real harm to your deer herd. It's a very rare trait and the genetic drift in even a small, isolated population is so great that such traits seldom become prolific without aggressive selective breeding.

They are, however, a novelty, a curiosity, and people like having them around.

Obviously you can't shoot white deer where they are protected by law, and to this day, laws protecting white deer remain in the books in a few states, largely out of superstition.

If one fawn twin is albino or piebald, the likelihood of the other being the same is fairly high.

If you recall your middle school biology, twins can be either identical or fraternal. Identical twins are the result of a single egg being fertilized, then splitting into two zygotes. As a result, each individual carries the same DNA. Fraternal twins result from two eggs being fertilized simultaneously, and thus having slightly different DNA.

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