The Loh Down On Science

You'll be surprised to learn that reindeer have blue eyes

Rudolf the . . . yellow-and-blue-eyed reindeer?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Meet Glen Jeffery from University College London.  He wondered how Arctic reindeer deal visually with life near the North Pole.  How do their eyes manage nonstop sunlight in summer but permanent darkness in winter?

To understand, he harvested the eyes of dead deer.  Awwww—but it was for science.  Some in winter, others in summer.  And when he shined light into them?  Summer eyes lit up golden yellow.  Winter baby blues?  Well, blue!  The color comes from a reflective membrane behind the retina.  It sends light back into the eye for a second round of reception.

Jeffery found that the protein fabric of winter membranes has a much tighter weave.  So light doesn’t just bounce back out the eye, as in summer.  Rather, it’s shattered into smaller wavelengths.  These look blue, and scatter inside the eye.  Hence, the retina captures more photons.  Indeed, winter eyes retained 60 percent more light.

This way?  Deer with the blues can see the light in their darkest moments.  As for deer in the headlights?  They're still just gonna stand there.

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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