Monday, July 9, 2012

Ghost of the Forest

These pictures are from a camera trapping project that Dave and I were working on back in NC.  The photos are from last year.  Been saving them for a time when I was swamped and couldn't get to the blog for a while.

The landowner told me she had an albino White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) on-site.  It didn't take us long to get photos of it. 

It did take some time to get nice daytime shots, though.....

Obviously, albino critters are neat...and lots of folks "oohhh" and "aahhh" over them (especially deer, for some reason, which recieve extra reverence....while albino turtles, frogs and snakes are considered "gross", but whatever!).  Yet, the ecologist and evolutionary biologist in me can't help but wonder if this is just the result of too few large carnivores on the landscape.  One would think this albino deer would stand-out like a sore thumb, and get taken out by a carnivore long before reaching this size. 

But there aren't any large carnivores here. 

The closest thing being the coyote (Canis latrans), which will definately eat deer if the circumstances are right....but is often just as happy eating rodents and bunnies, or other small game that's easier to take down than a deer.  We've gotten rid of the big 'uns....the wolves, bear, and Cougars....who's left to weed out these genetic mutations?

So, perhaps this albino white-tail is just another construct of humanity...... 

The result of our preferential elimination of things that would otherwise eat them.....

I've never seen any research on this topic, but it would be interesting to know if the frequency of adult albino deer is higher in areas with lower densities of their primary predators.


  1. Many (but not all of course) hunters consider it bad luck to shoot a white deer. Interesting how that might help select FOR albinism.

  2. Interesting.

    I have only seen one albino animal in the wild. A bat in some small caves on Bastimentos Island in Panama. Figured the bat, which is mostly out at night, and will mostly be predated on things like snakes that don't rely on sight to find prey might be less likely to be disadvantaged by its color, but that is just conjecture.

    Link to bat photo if you are curious:

  3. Well captured! I think your theory about whitey's longevity is probably a good one. A similar un-natural selection is occurring around here with the non-native eastern gray squirrels. The black color morphs that would normally get picked off in the wild are doing fine in asphalt suburbia, so they are propagating and the black morphs and marks becoming more common.

  4. Thanks for reading, all!

    RT: near the place we used to live in about four years ago, we saw several albino (or at least amelanistic) squirrels. This was in a suburban neighborhood (not exhurban and was probably closer to downtown than not). Not many squirrel predators there....aside from the occassional hawk. Seemed sort of unnatural to frequently see an albino critter living wild!

    We get that black color morph in certain areas of the upper Midwest as well! In fact, the University I attended as an undergraduate had an on-campus squirrel population with a hefty proportion of black morphs.

  5. Wow-great catch. That's an intriguing idea for a study too...Could combine it with albino and normal colored fawn models in the woods, with camera traps to see which gets investigated more (and by who).