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Reindeer Games

June 3, 2011

I know this blog claims to focus on literary representations of the Arctic, but I need to share one more science-inspired article. This report (“Reindeer See a Weird and Wonderful World of Ultraviolet Light,” published on Science Daily May 29th, 2011) details fascinating new information about how reindeer see their environment: because they can see ultraviolet light, they can spot lichen, predators’ urine markings, and even the fur of such well camouflaged animals as wolves. For those of us who can’t see ultraviolet (so-called because the wavelengths exceed the visible [to human] color spectrum), lichen, urine, and wolves easily blend into the muted color scheme of the tundra (in summer) making us easy prey targets while in the winter we are susceptible to snow-blindness while reindeer are not.

The author sums it up pretty well:

Reindeer can not only see ultraviolet light but they can also make sense of the image to find food and stay safe. Humans and almost all other mammals could never do this as our lenses just don’t let UV through into the eye.

And this is what the world looks like in UV (photo credit Glen Jeffery):

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