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A white deer is photographed in southern Sangamon County. Chris Young/The State Journal-Register.

White deer dare to be different

July 11, 2013 at 10:46 PM

The State Journal-Register

The sighting of an all-white, white-tailed deer is sure to attract plenty of attention and generate lots of questions.

A white deer was photographed in southern Sangamon County recently in the company of three deer of normal coloration.

To learn more, I contacted Tom Micetich, deer project manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

“We get photos and questions regarding the entire ‘spectrum’ of coat color in whitetails: all white, lighter than normal, darker than normal and nearly black,” Micetich said. “Yours is the second in the past week for me.”

A few years back, DNR biologists put together an issue paper to help answer some common questions about genetic anomalies in deer.

Thanks to their efforts, here are 10 facts about color variation in white-tailed deer:

1. Color variations are the most frequently observed anomaly in white-tailed deer

2. Not all white deer are albino. An animal is considered leucistic when the hair lacks coloring pigment, but the eyes, noses and hooves are normal coloration. Deer with white coats and brown eyes may have some brown hairs giving the coat a tan “wash.”

3. Fawns of white deer are born tan or cream colored with white spots. Some may appear tan or gray. They become all white by the end of their second year.

4. True albinos are rare. Albino births were estimated to be only one in 30,000, with few fawns surviving due to predators.

5. Biologists say evidence exists that albino animals may have weak eyesight or impaired hearing.

6. Albinism is a recessive trait that occurs in many organisms, including mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and plants. Both parents must carry the gene.

7. True albinism is the total lack of the body pigment melanin. Eyes appear pink because the iris lacks pigment and blood vessels show through the lens. Later in life, some melanin may “leak” leading to some color of the fur.

8. There is no such thing as a partial albino. Deer once called partial albino likely are just white deer.

9. Piebald deer produce some melanin, and have fur with brown patches or spots.

10. On the opposite end of the spectrum is melanism, which results from too much melanin. Deer can range from chocolate brown to black.

Illinois law protects all-white deer

Illinois hunting regulations make it illegal to kill any “all white” deer.

“The Illinois law protecting “all white” whitetails was the result of the small population at Sangchris Lake several years ago,” said Tom Micetich, Illinois Department of Natural Resources deer project manager.

Several states offer some protection for albino or “all-white” deer, including neighboring states of Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

A large protected herd of white deer occurs on the former Seneca Army Depot in New York.

The herd has been studied for years.

For more information, visit:

Chris Young can be reached at 788-1528 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow him at

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