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Can Deer See Red Light or Green Light?

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close up fawn deer

The most popular lights that hunters use when hunting deer are red and green. The reason for this is that deer are technically colorblind to the colors red and green. Lights that are red or green will appear gray to the deer, minimizing the chances of spooking them. Of the two colors, deer are worse at seeing red. 

How do we know what colors deer can see, though? It’s a fair question. After all, we can’t experience life like a deer and know first-hand what colors they can see. Still, scientists know what to look for when determining color blindness in animals, which means we know deer are color blind to certain colors.

To learn more about why deer can’t see red or green light, keep reading.

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Can Deer See Red Light?

Researchers found that deer suffer from something called protanopia. Protanopia is a special term that refers to a form of color blindness. This color blindness makes the individual suffering from protanopia dichromatic. More specifically, those who suffer from protanopia cannot see red specifically. In other words, the cones that detect red color are completely absent.

What this means for deer is that they cannot see red light. Instead, red appears to look more like the color gray. As a result, red lights do not startle deer in the way that white light does. It simply is not as noticeable to their vision.

close up spotted deer
Image Credit: zoosnow, Pixabay

What About Green Light?

Just as deer cannot see a red light, they aren’t good at detecting green light either. Color blindness to the color green is known as deuteranopia. Because of this condition, the color green also appears gray to a deer.

That being said, some studies have suggested that deer are slightly more sensitive to the color green than they are to the color red. More specifically, studies have found that deer have limited vision when it comes to middle green wavelength colors, whereas they are completely blind when it comes to the color red. This explains why some hunters prefer red light over green light.

What Colors Can Deer See?

So, deer are color blind to the colors red and green. What are the lights they can see? Deer have limited color vision that allows them to see short wavelengths and some middle wavelengths. Short wavelengths belong to the color blue, and some middle wavelengths are green.

What this means is that deer will not be able to distinguish something red from something green. Likewise, the deer will not be able to distinguish orange from green from red. The deer, however, will be able to tell the difference between something blue and something red.

roe deer with horns
Image Credit: die_Zyballas, Pixabay

How Do We Know Which Colors Deer Can See?

Although it may seem unbelievable, scientists can actually tell which colors animals see by inspecting the cones in their eyeballs. The number of cones and the type of cones found in the eye can tell a scientist about an animal’s color blindness and sensitivity to colors. By inspecting a deer’s eyeball, scientists have found that they do not have the cones required to see red.

Do Deer Have Better Vision Than Humans?

Because we can see more colors than deer, you might assume that our vision is better, but that is not the case. Even though deer have fewer cones than humans, they have more rods. This increase of rods makes deer more sensitive in low lighting. They can also detect much more subtle movement.

When it comes to hunting purposes, this increase in rods is more helpful than an increase in cones. Therefore, most people agree that deer can see better than humans, though they can’t see all the colors as humans.

fallow deer up close
Image Credit: MabelAmber, Pixabay

What Is the Best Light for Deer Hunting?

The best light for deer hunting is red light. Deer are color blind to red, which means all red light is going to appear more like a gray color. Some green lights are also suitable for deer hunting, but deer are slightly better at detecting green than red when the green is against a blue wavelength.

For this reason, always go with a red light when deer hunting. It will give you the best chance of seeing the deer without startling it in the process.

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Final Thoughts

Unlike humans, deer as a species are colorblind. They are considered red-green colorblind, which means they cannot see red, and they cannot see certain shades of green as well. Instead, deer are best at detecting low wavelength colors, such as blue.

What this means for you is that you should always select a green or red light when hunting deer. Red light is the best because it is the light color that deer are the worst at seeing. The red light will not startle the deer away, but it will still provide you with a good visual.

Featured Image Credit: LN_Photoart, Pixabay

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.