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Albinism In Whitetails

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.