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Albino, Piebald, and Melanistic Whitetail Deer


Albino: Among the questions most often asked are "What causes some deer to be albinos?" "How common are they?" "Are they protected?" and "Can they reproduce?" Albinism is a recessive trait found in mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and even plants. These plants and animals do not have the gene for normal coloration and do not produce the enzyme responsible for skin, hair and tissue coloration. Albinism is the total absence of body pigment. The eyes of an albino are pink, because blood vessels behind the lenses show through the unpigmented irises. As you might guess, albinism is not a desirable trait for either predators or prey species. Being totally white year-round makes concealment difficult. Also, many albinos have poor eyesight. In the game of life, where survival of the fittest is the rule, albinos have a strike against them from the start. Perhaps that is why albinos are rare.Because albinism is a recessive trait, both parents must carry the gene before it can occur in their offspring. An albino deer bred to another albino would have only albinos. An albino bred to a normal deer with no recessive genes for albinism would produce all normally pigmented deer. Offspring from this cross would carry the recessive gene for albinism but would be normally colored. When carriers of albinism breed there is a one-in-four chance they will produce an albino fawn. Recessive genetic traits typically become less common unless they confer a survival advantage or are artificially enhanced through selective breeding. Based on hunter reports, about one deer in 30,000 is an albino. Not all white deer are true albinos. Some white whitetails have normally pigmented noses, eyes and hooves. This is a genetic mutation for hair color but not other pigments.

Piebald: Piebald deer have patches of white hair but are otherwise normally colored. Piebalds are thought to be more common than albinos. Depending on what part of the country you are from these deer are sometimes referred to as pintos and come in various amounts of white and brown.

Melanistic: Melanistic deer are very dark sometimes even black. Melanism results from overproduction of pigment and is less common than albinism. Hunters see dark deer with some frequency but to actually see a Melanistic deer is rare.

States with laws against hunting albino deer are Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Tennessee, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

'It's like a white flash'
There is a place in Wisconsin's North Woods, in rural Vilas County, outside Boulder Junction, where the white deer roam.
89300White Deer
White deer are very scarce, some say, but one expert thinks several groups are in Wisconsin. These gathered in Vilas County recently.
Are they albino deer or deer that happen to be white? The eyes are not pink. The unusual deer date back at least to the 1950s.
Journal Sentinel photographer Jeffrey Phelps recently traveled to Vilas County to find and photograph the deer. Some of the photos he snapped were blurred - he was shaking with emotion. Other photos, though, capture the poetry, beauty and majesty of the animals.
People are really, really interested in the deer, keep close tabs on them. These white deer really get a hook into people.
They are as white as a covering of fresh snow, white like mystical and magical ghosts.
They run wild and free, show up at feeders and amble down roads.
They are protected and cannot be hunted in Wisconsin.
They remain part of a timeless landscape.
"A cluster of white deer has been up there since the 1950s, maybe before," says Keith McCaffery, a retired deer biologist from Rhinelander.