Deer are remarkably known for their unique sense of sight. Their eyes allow them to focus on a broader scope of the area at once and see clearly in low-light and dark settings. Yet, even deer eyes have limitations.
Despite all these strong abilities, deer have trouble recognizing specific colors. This leads us to the question: what colors can deer not see?
What Colors Can Deer Not See?
Deer cannot see the colors red and orange. This is mainly because their eyes are built differently from human eyes and cannot view the entire visible spectrum of color.
Color is actually just our eyes’ interpretation of the reflection of light. Each color is a form of light that our eyes translate into colors depending on its wavelength.
Deer eyes can only view colors with short and middle wavelengths. This ultimately prevents them from seeing red and orange, which have long wavelengths.
Red is the color with the longest wavelength. It is placed at one of the farthest ends of the visible spectrum of colors. It has a wavelength of 620 to 750 nanometers.
Deer eyes cannot see this color as they lack the photoreceptor to view colors with long wavelengths. In turn, the deer’s inability to see this color has allowed hunters wearing red clothing to escape the deer’s cautious gaze during hunting season.
Orange has the second-longest wavelength in the visible color spectrum. It has a wavelength of 590 to 620 nanometers and is placed just past the deer’s range of visible colors.
Currently, regulatory agencies have recommended using orange clothing, specifically bright or blaze orange, when hunting to prevent accidents at the hands of other hunters.
Initially, this raised a slight concern as hunters feared that the vivid color might scare deer away.
However, like red, the color orange also has a long wavelength that the deer’s photoreceptors cannot detect. This makes them unable to see the bright orange allowing hunters to evade detection.
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What Colors Do Deer See Instead?
Deer often see colors with long wavelengths as other colors. However, due to the extremely different make-up of deer eyes, what they see exactly can vary depending on who you ask.
The most popular opinion is that deer see orange and red-colored items as green or yellow as these two colors bear the closest wavelengths to the former.
Other sources have also said that deer see red or orange items in shades of gray due to the lack of photoreceptors to perceive the actual color of these wavelengths.
Lastly, there are also sources that have speculated that deer view these colors as a different color that is entirely unknown to humans.
Why Can’t Deer See Certain Colors?
There are various reasons why deer cannot see colors the way we do. For one, their eyes are built differently and lack a certain photoreceptor that helps detect color.
Additionally, their eyesight and ability to discern color are also affected by their crepuscular nature.
Lack of Cone Cells
Eyes, in general, have photoreceptors. These photoreceptors enable our sense of sight. They take in all the light and send signals to the brain, allowing us to form images regarding what we see.
There are four basic types of photoreceptors in the eyes: three types of cone cells and rods.
The cone cells, also referred to as cones, are responsible for our eyes’ ability to detect color. There are three kinds of cone cells:
- Red Cone Cells
Red cone cells are sensitive to two ranges of light wavelengths. The major wavelength lies between 500 and 760 nm. On the other hand, the minor wavelength is at 380 to 450 nm.
This cone allows us to see the shades of red, orange, violet, yellow, and white. This cone cell is also slightly activated by the color green.
- Green Cone Cells
On the other hand, green cone cells are sensitive to light wavelengths between 430 to 670 nm.
Through this cone cell, we can see the shades of green, cyan, yellow, and white. This cone cell also has the ability to detect the color orange slightly.
- Blue Cone Cells
Finally, blue cone cells are sensitive to wavelengths of light between 380 to 550 nm.
It is this cone cell that allows us to see the shades of blue, violet, cyan, magenta, and white. These cone cells can also slightly detect the color green.
Humans have all three cone cells and therefore have trichromatic vision allowing them to see the whole spectrum of visible light.
Deer, on the other hand, lacks the red cone cell and thus cannot detect the colors entirely dependent on this cone, such as red and orange.
However, they have blue and green cones, making them dichromatic and only red-green colorblind.
Crepuscular or Nocturnal Activity
Deer are known for being active during nighttime or twilight hours. Given that, they are used to going about their business in low-light settings.
While cone cells function for color detection, they require a more significant amount of light to be able to work. Given that, the less than ideal lighting setting during dusk and dawn hours is where rod cells come in.
Rod cells are the last type of photoreceptors that are responsible for the deer’s ability to see despite having little to no light. In other words, it is responsible for scotopic vision.
While these rod cells are great at letting the deer see its surroundings in the dark, it does not have any function in color interpretation. Thus, anything viewed with rod cells is seen in monotone shades of gray.
While deer lack the ability to see all the colors in the visible spectrum, they are not entirely colorblind. In truth, their eyes function just the way they need them to.
They might not see long wavelength colors, but they have an enhanced ability to perceive light and colors with short wavelengths. This compensates for the former and aids them better with their daily activities.