Are elk and deer colorblind to blaze orange/pink clothes?


Humans have trichromatic vision. Deer, Elk (wapiti) and some other animals have dichromatic vision. It’s not that deer and Elk can’t “see” oranges and reds, they just perceive them differently.

Here is an explanation from Polk County Iowa

Deer Color Blindness

Are deer are color-blind? Is this why hunters can wear bright orange clothing and the deer don’t seem to notice?

Yes, deer have a form of color blindness. All mammals have a retina located in the back of the eye that consists of two types of light sensitive cells called rods and cones. Rods function in the absence, or near absence, of light and permit vision in darkness. Cones function in full light and permit daytime and color vision. Deer have more rods (nighttime cells) and fewer cones (daytime and color cells) than humans. Therefore, deer have better nighttime vision than humans but poorer daytime and color vision. Deer lack red cones so they can’t distinguish between green, yellow, orange, red or brown. All of these colors appear as shades of yellow. So the blaze orange color hunters wear appears yellow, as does almost everything else to a deer.

Elk have similar vision as deer. According to this site,

When it comes to sight, elk aren’t endowed with precise vision. In fact, they see around the human equivalence of 20-60. Additionally, they don’t see the full color spectrum humans do. Elk vision is dichromatic, which means their world is seen in two colors, not trichromatic like our vision. There is a whole science to ungulate vision, but to keep it simple, just know this. Elk don’t have a red cone like humans, so the upper end of the color spectrum appears yellowish to elk. They aren’t color blind, but they don’t see color the way we do.

As a bonus, it’s speculated that deer may have the ability to perceived ultraviolet light better than humans.

In August 1992, a group of leading deer researchers and vision scientists gathered at the University of Georgia to conduct this landmark study….

Our study confirmed that deer possess two (rather than three as in humans) types of cone photopigments allowing limited color vision. The cone photopigment deer lack is the “red” cone, or the one sensitive to long wavelength colors such as red and orange. These colors aren’t invisible to deer, but rather are perceived differently. Deer are essentially red-green colorblind like some humans. Their color vision is limited to the short (blue) and middle (green) wavelength colors. As a result, deer likely can distinguish blue from red, but not green from red, or orange from red. Therefore, it appears that hunters would be equally suited wearing green, red, or orange clothing but disadvantaged wearing blue.

The results regarding the UV capabilities of deer were equally fascinating. Our results confirmed that, unlike humans, deer lack a UV filter in their eye. In humans, this filter blocks about 99 percent of damaging UV light from entering the eye. It also functions much like a pair of yellow shooting glasses and allows us to focus more sharply on fine detail. The trade-off is a loss of sensitivity to short wavelength colors, especially in the UV spectrum. Because deer do not have a UV filter, they see much better in the UV spectrum but lack the ability to see fine detail. This helps explain why deer often move their head from side to side when they encounter a hunter.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>