West, TX

A one-in-a-million anomaly : Texas biologists record rare melanistic (black hair) mule deer

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Representational imageMikeGoad

Biologists from the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife found a deer with a rare genetic mutation in the West Texas desert while conducting wildlife surveys in the Trans-Pecos Wildlife District. This special deer appears all black compared to the majority of mule deer that have a brown color.

Researchers estimate that one out of several million deer have this rare genetic makeup, although it’s hard to estimate the exact number. Texas Parks and Wildlife posted a video on Facebook along with a statement:

Melanism is a rare, random genetic anomaly believed to be caused by mutations in the melanocortin 1 receptor gene (MC1R) which leads to an overproduction of the pigment melanin. It’s difficult for Biologists to quantify the number of mule deer that have this condition, but it’s estimated to be around 1 in several million – making it even rarer than an albino (all white hair) or piebald (white spotted) mule deer.

Melanistic mule deer are hard to find, the rarest of the rare. They appear perfectly normal, save for their color. The first one observed and recorded by an American scientist was in 1929. There had only been sightings of a rare melanistic deer in 29 states as of 2018.

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