Feeds

Reindeer can see in ultraviolet, say boffins

Very useful for not eating the yellow snow, apparently

Build a business case: developing custom apps

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. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
LOHAN packs bags for SPACEPORT AMERICA!
Spanish launch goes titsup, we're off to the US of A
Gigantic toothless 'DRAGONS' dominated Earth's early skies
Gummy pterosaurs outlived toothy competitors
'Leccy racer whacks petrols in Oz race
ELMOFO rakes in two wins in sanctioned race
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
Boffins build CYBORG-MOTHRA but not for evil: For search & rescue
This tiny bio-bot will chew through your clothes then save your life
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
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.