Feeds

Reindeer can see in ultraviolet, say boffins

Very useful for not eating the yellow snow, apparently

Security for virtualized datacentres

Reindeer can see much further into the ultraviolet than humans can, according to new research. This is thought to offer the antler-sporting capreolines several important arctic survival abilities.

"We discovered that reindeer can not only see ultraviolet light but they can also make sense of the image to find food and stay safe," says top reindeer boffin Professor Glen Jeffery. "Humans and almost all other mammals could never do this as our lenses just don't let UV through into the eye."

According to pioneering research by Jeffery and his team, reindeer can see wavelengths as short as 350 or even 320 nanometres, well beyond the human limit of 400: such frequencies would be "black light" to us.

Apparently the ability to see in the ultraviolet is pretty handy up in the frozen north, where the sun seldom gets far above the horizon. This means that a lot of the light available has arrived by atmospheric scattering rather than directly, and as such it is blue or ultraviolet (the sky is blue rather than white or red for the same reason).

Nonetheless it might appear that UV vision would be of little use in northerly climes, as the prevalent snow cover reflects it and everything would tend to look white. Not so, according to Prof Jeffery:

"When we used cameras that could pick up UV, we noticed that there are some very important things that absorb UV light and therefore appear black, contrasting strongly with the snow," he explains. "This includes urine – a sign of predators or competitors; lichens – a major food source in winter; and fur, making predators such as wolves very easy to see despite being camouflaged to other animals that can't see UV."

The ability to avoid eating the yellow snow even in dim lighting certainly seems worthwhile on its own.

Apart from a greater understanding of reindeer, Jeffery thinks that the research might offer insights into human eyesight. Not only can humans not see in the ultraviolet, UV actually damages our eyes – for instance in the phenomenon of "snow blindness" where UV glare off snow can temporarily render the front parts of the eye cloudy or even opaque.

"The question remains as to why the reindeer's eyes don't seem to be damaged by UV," says Jeffery. "Perhaps it's not as bad for eyes as we first thought? Or maybe they have a unique way of protecting themselves, which we could learn from and perhaps develop new strategies to prevent or treat the damage the UV can cause to humans."

Jeffery and his team's research is published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. ®

Intelligent flash storage arrays

More from The Register

next story
Voyager 1 now EIGHTEEN LIGHT HOURS from home
Almost 20 BEEELION kilometres from Sol
Ex-Soviet engines fingered after Antares ROCKET launch BLAST
Speculation rife, but Orbital claims it's too early to tell
MEN: For pity's sake SLEEP with LOTS of WOMEN - and avoid Prostate Cancer
And, um, don't sleep with other men. If that's what worries you
Jim Beam me up, Scotty! WHISKY from SPAAACE returns to Earth
They're insured for $1m, before you thirsty folks make plans
ROGUE SAIL BOAT blocks SPACE STATION PODULE blastoff
Er, we think our ISS launch beats your fishing expedition
NASA: Spacecraft crash site FOUND ON MOON RIM
'What fun!' exlaims NASA boffin who found the LADEE
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
BAE points electromagnetic projectile at US Army
Railguns for 'Future fighting vehicle'
prev story

Whitepapers

Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.