Can Deer See White? (Explained)

Deer have dichromatic vision, which means their color detection is impaired compared to ours, but they can still see white very clearly.

Can Deer See White?

Deer can see the color white. 

The white-tailed deer is the best example of how well deer can see white color. Nature equipped them with a long tail with a white underside, which they flash when spooked to alert other deer. 

The white tail is visible from a distance and easily picked from the surroundings by other deer in the area.

Deer have dichromatic vision because they only possess two types of cone cells responsible for seeing colors: green and blue.

Cone cells are a type of photoreceptor cells in the eye’s retina responsible for recognizing color and its intensity.

Each cone has a responsibility to recognize a certain amount of colors: 

  • Green cone cells are responsible for all shades of green, cyan, yellow, and white.
  • Blue cone cells allow deer to see shades of blue, violet, cyan, magenta, and white.

As we can see, both types of cones allow deer to recognize the white color. It doesn’t mean they can see it twice as good, but they can distinguish it from other colors.

Additionally, white color doesn’t have a specific wavelength, like red, orange, blue, or green colors. White color comprises wavelengths between 400 – 700 nm.

Because white is composed of wavelengths of different colors, deer can use their short-wavelength vision to recognize the color white. This means they can use blue and green cone cells for it.

Can Deer See White?

Moreover, deer’s eyes lack a UV filter. This means deer are able to see wavelengths and lights invisible to the human eye, like ultraviolet light.

Deer can easily detect UV light reflected from other colors, and because white is one of the brightest colors in nature, it reflects a lot more UV light than other, darker colors, like green or blue. This makes it even more visible to deer than it is to humans.

Another area of help to see white comes from rod cells – photoreceptor cells in the eye’s retina responsible for seeing the light. 

Deer have a large number of rod cells because they have crepuscular nature. This means they are the most active during low light settings, like early morning or late evening (just before sunrise and slightly after sundown).

Because white color reflects the biggest amount of other wavelengths, including UV light, it’s easier for deer to detect it amongst other colors. 

Rod cells help deer see with little to no light, but they can’t aid deer with color recognition.

Although rod cells can’t help deer with colors, white is technically not a pure color. White is a shade. It comprises all spectrum of visible colors.

Therefore any light reflected by it will be visible to deer, especially in low light. 

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How Deer See White Color

Deer can see white color simply as white color, similarly to us. 

However, there is a slight difference. While the human eye has a UV filter in its lens, the deer has a clear lens and can see UV light reflecting from other colors.

White color reflects all visible wavelengths with approximate equality, and it also reflects UV light (invisible to the human eye). 

It means that for deer, the white color is more detectable than other colors. It may also appear slightly illuminated due to the amount of reflected light.

Are Deer Afraid of Color White?

In a certain setting, deer can be scared when seeing white color, but not afraid of the color itself.

Most deer species have a white rump, and some also have long tails with a white underside, like whitetail or even mule deer. 

When startled, deer flare their white rumps or lift their tails, flagging them while running away.

The signal means danger to other deer around. This way, deer learn to associate white color with escape. 

White color is also more reflective than others, and it’s easier to pick out from other colors in a setting with limited light, for example, during nighttime or in a dark forest.

Deer seem predisposed to pick up white color easily from their surroundings. Many hunters 

would go as far as to cover the white vanes on their arrows during archery hunting and paint their faces.

Things change with the snowfall. Deer are not afraid of snow, so the white doesn’t affect them as much in the snow-covered surrounding.

With snow cover, there are fewer chances of deer detecting other white objects. 

How White Color Aids Deer

Can Deer See White?

As mentioned above, the white color is a warning sign for deer. They are not afraid of the white color itself but of what it represents.

Aside from blue color, white is the most visible color for deer in their habitat, and their reaction to it is swift escape. From an early age, deer learn from their mothers all the signals and how to avoid a threat. 

Whitetails are one of the best examples of how deer use white color to survive. Flashing their long flag-like tails means there is danger.

The situation is slightly different in the wintertime when there is plenty of snow. Still, even in the winter, deer can discern other deer’s white rumps and tails from the white of the snow once they are moving fast through the forest.

Can You Use White Clothing When Deer Hunting?

White clothing is usually not recommended during hunting season without snow coverage.

Deer can detect white straight away. In fact, deer use white to flash a “danger!” sign to other deer by lifting their tails and flagging white underside or flaring white rump. 

Deer can discern white, alongside blue, from their surroundings. Those two colors are the most noticeable for deer. It means wearing white for a hunt when there is no snow cover to blend in with is not the best idea.

Deer can easily spot white even in a low light setting due to their crepuscular nature and good nighttime vision. White stands out at night, even to the human eye.

The sides turn when hunting on snow. Although a fast movement, noise, and smell can still alert the deer about danger, wearing pure white or white camo clothing for a snow hunt can help the hunter blend with the surrounding.

Conclusion

Deer can see the white color very clearly, and in most cases, they will associate it with escape. 

It is a defense mechanism built into deer species, especially noticeable in white-tailed deer.

Raising their tails and flashing their white underside means danger, and from a young age, deer learn to run when seeing the white “flag.” 

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