Are Deer Color Blind? What Colors Can And Can't They See

Abhijeet Modi
Oct 06, 2023 By Abhijeet Modi
Originally Published on Oct 14, 2021
Deer standing by rosehip bush with red fruits.
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Age: 3-18
Read time: 6.2 Min

The deer is a majestic hoofed ruminant (an animal that brings back food from its stomach and chews it again).

Deer are found in almost all places around the world except in the continents of Australia and Antarctica. The animal belongs to the family Cervidae and order Artiodactyla.

Broadly, deer are classified into the Old World deer and the New World deer. Males in most species of deer have antlers. One species (reindeer) has females with antlers.

Also, the animal has two large hooves and two small ones on each foot. Though some form of management and protection is always appreciated in the conservation of this animal, the deer is a resilient mammal and can flourish in most man-made environments. Deer, in many cases, have lived closely with humans.

The reindeer or the caribou have been domesticated as well. Deer tend to multiply fast and are thus compared even to pests in certain regions.

The meat of the deer is called venison. The animal is a herbivore. Also, it is pretty fast on its legs and can outrun most predators expertly.

The vision of the animal is pretty interesting. Deer vision, how it distinguishes color and patterns has been studied extensively by experts. It is because of somatic adaptations that the deer may be termed colorblind.

Continue on to discover more about deer and their sight. If you like reading this article, you may also like reading articles about, 'Are Bay Leaves Edible?' and 'Are Beans A Vegetable?'

What colors can deer see?

The deer's eyes can sense different wavelength colors. However, their perception of colors is not the same as a man. They are sensitive to blue.

The deer can perceive colors that fall in a short wavelength. Blue light falls in the low wavelength category.

Colors like green fall in the medium wavelength category. Thus, the colors that deer see well include the blue spectrum.

Why do they have this distinction in vision? Can they not see red?

The answer lies in the number of rods and cones that the deer have. Rods and cones are photoreceptors (cells in the retina that respond to photons) that determine eyesight.

The former helps in tracking movement and changes in the surrounding spectrum while the latter closes in on the details. The number of rods in a deer's eye is 20 times more than the number of rods in a human eye.

However, the number of cones (three types in the humans and two types in the deer) that they have is almost half in comparison to humans.

The blue spectrum is the light at dawn and dusk, and it is in the dawn and dusk that the deer is the most active. Deers like the whitetails can distinguish blue from red.

They do see red. Interestingly, the more blue light is reflected in the clothing fabrics of a hunter, the easier it will be for the deer to spot them.

Thus, wearing blue jeans is not advisable when going on a hunting trip. Wearing blue jeans would make the hunter stand out; the animal would see color and run away.

Wearing white clothes is also unadvisable in most circumstances, the exceptions being a snowy background or any other background more suited to it. The deer cannot differentiate in the minute details, and even a mediocre camouflage would do.

What colors can't deer see?

Though the deer can see a variety of colors, there are several others which they cannot perceive. The deer's vision varies according to the wavelength of the spectrum.

They are relatively less sensitive to colors with medium and long-wavelength like brown, red, and orange. The deer's vision cannot distinguish red from orange.

The deer are color blind. Also, humans see blaze orange better than deer. Detailed research needs to be conducted to see how a deer distinguishes between lighter grays and tans.

Hunters, therefore, prefer camo patterns with lighter hues in arid or snowy backgrounds. However, in other backgrounds darker camo pattern with green or browns should be considered in order to reduce the ability to see and detect the deer.

A deer would easily detect objects that are moving in comparison to objects that are stationary. The oval shape of the animal's eye helps it to see more on the left and the right. However, the same does not apply towards seeing upwards or downwards.

The deer is essentially hunted by a majority of terrestrial predators and not many arboreal predators. Thus this is an adaption to the surrounding environment for the animal.

A young deer staring straight at the camera.

Can deer see in the dark?

Yes, deer can see very well in the dark and in low light. Various experiments conducted by researchers have confirmed both the color vision of the animals and how well they are accustomed to locate predators and other dangers lurking in the deep, dark woods.

The night vision in deer eyes is 18 times better than that of a human eye. The presence of rods in the retina of the elk helps in low light vision.

The rods dominate the scene when it is dark. The presence of cones is much lesser as compared to humans.

Also, the pupils are horizontal in shape, which enables the animal to gather nine times more light in the eye. It would not be prudent to state that the deer can't see UV light.

Detergents used in washing clothes that are UV or ultraviolet light killers should be used before hunting. In research, four out of six clothes with camo patterns reflected enough of the light in the bluish spectrum on a neutral background that the deer can detect.

Thus, detergents that use fabric brighteners should be avoided in washing clothes before going hunting. Fabric brighteners in clothes essentially aid the deer to escape by enhancing their ability to see.

The deer can see much better from the ground to the horizon. It is tough for a hunter to hide at the level of the eye.

Are deer color blind?

The deer is essentially red-green color blind. The animal cannot differentiate between red and green wavelengths though it can see in low light. For this reason, camo patterns with darker hues should be preferred by hunters.

After conducting extensive research, scientists and wildlife biologists at the University of Georgia have concluded that the deer are color blind. The animal is essentially red-green color blind.

The color blind deer cannot distinguish green from red. The eye of a deer lacks a yellow filter that is a UV killer and, at the same time, stops the blue spectrum.

This reduces their clarity to look at things and, at the same time, enhances their power to see color at sunrise and sunset. Humans have this yellow filter that is a UV killer.

This being said, it should also be kept in mind that the deer see and process things much faster than those of a human. The animal can process wavelengths and patterns around 2.5 times faster than a human. The structure of the eye is also adapted for such enhanced vision.

The animal has a layer at the back of the eye that resembles a mirror. It is termed the 'tapetum lucidum.'

It intensifies the spectrum from the ground and is situated in the upper half of the retina. Thus how a deer perceives different wavelengths is unique.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for, 'Are deer color blind?', then why not take a look at, 'Are birds warm-blooded?' or 'Are black diamonds real?'

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Written by Abhijeet Modi

Master of Computer Science

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Abhijeet ModiMaster of Computer Science

An experienced and innovative entrepreneur and creative writer, Abhijeet holds a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Computer Application from Birla Institute of Technology, Jaipur. He co-founded an e-commerce website while developing his skills in content writing, making him an expert in creating blog posts, website content, product descriptions, landing pages, and editing articles. Passionate about pushing his limits, Abhijeet brings both technical expertise and creative flair to his work.

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