Skip to main content
Credit Annika Thierfeld

Image courtesy of Annika Thierfeld

Rudolph ‘not bullied for red nose’

Rudolph the reindeer probably wasn’t bullied for his crimson snout – because he and his fellow reindeer can’t see red.

In news that may shock the North Pole, University of Exeter scientists have revealed that Santa’s sled-pullers lack the colour-detecting eye cells that humans use to detect red.

The same applies to orange – meaning Donner, Blitzen and the rest might struggle to spot any carrots left out for them at Christmas.

“Reindeer can’t see red light or tell the difference between red, orange and green,” explained Professor Martin Stevens, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

“So they wouldn’t be able to see the red of Rudolph’s nose or the orange of carrots.

“However, they do have ultraviolet vision, and use this to see lichen hidden in the snow in the arctic, and potentially even spot white wolves or other predators because fur absorbs UV light whereas snow reflects UV light.

“So a camouflaged white wolf to us would stand out to reindeer.”

Aside from the UV vision, the eyesight of reindeers is a little like that of dogs, which are also unable to tell the difference between red, orange and green.

Professor Stevens and his colleagues’ work on animal vision also includes horses, leading to a trial of new colours on fences at racecourses.

Professor Stevens and Exeter masters student Maria Watson explained the visual abilities of reindeer at the Science of Christmas, an annual event in Falmouth.

Date: 7 December 2018

Read more University News