Early in my outdoor writing career, I learned a valuable lesson while making a common mistake: I called a mostly white deer an “albino.”
The response was swift, and harsh, and readers — many, many readers — lined up to tell me that I was wrong. The photo I had shared showed a “piebald” deer. Not an albino.
Today, I’m happy to share some great photos sent in by Jeremy Clark of Helenville, Wisconsin. They show (and this time, I’m sure of it) a piebald deer.
Since I don’t actually have a degree in deer-related matters, I reached out to Nathan Bieber, the deer biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and asked him to explain the basics.
“Piebald deer share a genetic recessive trait, so both of the deer’s parents have to carry the recessive gene for there to be a chance the offspring will be piebald,” Bieber said. “Piebald deer will have body pigments distributed abnormally, but an albino deer will be completely lacking pigment.”
And piebalds are pretty rare, because they face survival struggles before they’re even born, Bieber said.
“Most people think of piebald deer as just having some color differences, but most actually die in utero, and many have issues with their skeletal structure,” he said. “We have a lovely piebald doe with a [tracking] collar on it up in Allagash, for example, that has shortened front legs and an overbite.”
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