Albino deer. Every deer hunter has heard of one or at least thought about seeing one, but what’s the deal with albino white-tailed deer? Among the questions most often asked is “what causes some whitetail deer to be albinos?” Well, although albino deer a rare for the most part, albinism is not.
Albinism is a recessive trait found in many animals including mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and even plants! Albino animals do not have the gene for normal coloration and do not produce the enzyme responsible for skin, hair, and tissue coloration. The result of this genetic oddity is the total absence of body pigment.
In addition to the lack of body pigment, the eyes of an albino are pink because blood vessels behind the lenses show through the unpigmented irises. As you can guess, albinism is not a great trait for an animal, either predator or prey, unless they live in area with constant snow cover.
Obviously, being totally white year-round makes concealment in most deer habitat difficult. To make matters worse, many albinos in general have poor eyesight. Perhaps that is why albino deer are rare: lack of camoflauge increases deer predator attacks, poor eyesight, and a recessive, rare gene. A gene will usually only be passed on through a population if the traits that those genes control are beneficial to an animal. However, some traits, such as albinism, can be carried an non necessarily exhbited.
Because albinism is a recessive trait, both deer 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 white-tailed 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. As I mentioned earlier, recessive genetic traits typically become less common unless they confer a survival advantage or are artificially enhanced through selective breeding.
Based on deer hunter reports, only about one deer in 30,000 is an albino! However, not all white deer are true albinos. Some white whitetails have normally pigmented noses, eyes and hooves. In that instance, it would only be a genetic mutation for hair color but not other pigments.