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Reindeer Vision

December 22, 2016

Reindeer can detect ultraviolet light, which may help them survive dark Arctic winters.

Transcript

Sami Keinänen CC BY-SA 2.0 cropped

Above the Arctic circle in Norway, these reindeer enjoy twilight conditions at midnight during the summer. But during the winter, it’s dark almost all the time. (Sami Keinänen/CC BY-SA 2.0, cropped, via flickr)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Reindeers’ special vision…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Human eyes can’t see ultraviolet light, and people exposed to too much UV suffer from a painful condition called snow blindness. That’s because the high-energy light damages the eye.

GLEN JEFFERY (University College London):

It’s like sunburn on the cornea.

HIRSHON:

That’s University College London neuroscientist Glen Jeffery. But he and his colleagues discovered that reindeer are spared the affliction.

JEFFERY:

These animals don’t get it.

HIRSHON:

Not only that, these Arctic inhabitants can see UV light.

JEFFERY:

And they use the UV light to extend their visual range because for most of their life, it’s dark, and you want to get every bit of light out in that world and make sense of it.

HIRSHON:

For instance, being able to see UV makes things like food and predators easier to spot in the snow. Understanding how reindeer see the world could shed light on better ways to treat eye diseases in humans. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard