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Reindeer Vision

June 27, 2011

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

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Seeing the world through reindeer eyes.…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. He and his colleagues recently discovered that reindeer are spared the afflivction.

JEFFERY:

These animals don’t get it.

HIRSHON:

Not only that, these Arctic inhabitants can see UV.

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 do it could shed light on better ways to treat eye diseases in humans. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.