Feeds

Reindeer can see in ultraviolet, say boffins

Very useful for not eating the yellow snow, apparently

SANS - Survey on application security programs

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. ®

Top three mobile application threats

More from The Register

next story
Fancy joining Reg hack on quid-a-day challenge?
Recruiting now for charity starvation diet
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a defence for mobile apps
In this whitepaper learn the various considerations for defending mobile applications; from the mobile application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies needed to properly assess mobile applications risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.