Can Deer See in the Dark?

Basit Ali Chaudhary

Recent research shows that deer have a distinctive vision compared to humans. Although deer can see different colors but not in the same way as we humans see.

Deer can see short and medium wavelength colors like blue and green, but not reds or oranges. The 1990s research at Georgia University where deer brains were measured in response to light wavelengths being emitted into their eyes while they were sedated. Brian Murphy, CEO of Quality Deer Management Association, participated in this research and noted that “Deer’s are essentially red-green color blind”.

During the night, deer can see in the dark and perceive colors in the blue-green spectrum.

Deer’s vision capacity has also been studied scientifically. Let’s look at that research and other facts about how proficient deer are at seeing at night and recognizing colors.

What does the research say about deer’s visual ability?

deer eye

A study conducted by Kurt C. Ver Cauteren and Michael J. Pipas from National Wildlife Research Center US, is really useful in understanding how deer see their environment at different times of the day.

In this study, they have summarized and explained the ability of deer to visualize their outside world and how they discriminate different colors. Below is a summary of their findings on How do deer see?

We confirm that deer can see colors. Whitetail deer have three classes of photopigments mechanism; short-wavelength sensitive, middle-wavelength sensitive, and short-wavelength rod. They also have the ability to discriminate colors due to the distribution of these photopigments. In daylight, deer discriminate the different colors in a range from blue to yellow-green and can also see longer wavelengths such as red and orange colors. And at night time, they see colors in the blue to the blue-green range. However, at night they may find it difficult to see colors of large wavelengths such as red and orange.”

VerCauteren, Kurt C., and Michael J. Pipas. “A Review of Color Vision in White-Tailed Deer.” Wildlife Society Bulletin (1973-2006), vol. 31, no. 3, 2003, pp. 684–91. JSTOR

Can deer see red and orange colors?

According to a experimental study conducted by Namiko Nakamura from the Faculty of Agriculture, Kagoshima University expressed that deer have the ability to distinguish between red, green, and blue. He conducted a test using LED bulbs to test whether the deer would be able to discriminate between the colors. This test was experimented on sika deer in an experimental room.

The deer in experiment were well capable of seeing blue and green colors but are less reactive to red and orange as these colors have long wavelengths. But it does not mean that they are completely blind when seeing red or orange, but they are less reactive and struggles to pick these colors.

Structure of deer eye

Deer eyes have some incredible features that allow the animal to survive better in its environment. Although they look like other vertebrates’ eyes, there are some notable differences. A distinguishing feature of deer is that their pupils are oval and not circular like those of other animals. As a result of this unique feature, they have a wider range of vision and can easily concentrate on the entire surroundings around them. Also, they have a specialized lens that filters out UV rays, so they can navigate even in the brightest sunlight.

Animals like deer have better night vision than humans. There’s a layer of reflective cells behind the retina called tapetum lucidum. There are reflective cells in the eye’s choroid or vascular layer that enhance light, leading to a phenomenon called “eye-shine,” a bright reflection from nocturnal mammals. Reflected light bounces back through the retina and even changes color depending on which angle it enters. That’s why at night, you might see some animals’ eyes shining when some direct light hits their eyes, same is the case with deer.

Deer’s eye uses two types of cells for vision; one is rods, and the other is cones. Rods are used to interpret light at low levels, and cones are used to perceive light.


The rods interpret light, but they can’t see color. The Whitetail deer has a lot more rods than humans, which allows them to see clearly at much lower light levels. In addition, Whitetail deer have a membrane called the tapetum lucidum in their eyes. It allows their millions of rods to see the same ray of light twice, doubling the amount of light available to them and allowing them to have incredibly clear night vision.


Cone cells in the eyes are responsible for perceiving light on higher levels, or what we call photopic vision. This ability also allows us to perceive color, as cones have differing sensitivity to different parts of the visible spectrum. Although humans and deer have different cones, humans are trichromatic, meaning they can see blue, red, and green. However, deer are dichromatic and can only see blue and green. It’s because their eyes are more adapted for picking up low light levels than for color perception.

How Far Can Deer See in the Dark?

deer night vision

Deer have amazing night vision, far better than humans. But just how far can deer actually see when it’s dark out? There are no precise calculations or figures to answer this. However, many hunters have stated their experience, saying that deer can see movement up to 100 yards away at night as well. This range increases further to 160-200 yards if there is moonlight in the area.

To stay safe from predators after sundown, deer rely heavily on their large eyes and excellent hearing. Deer also have an extra reflective layer behind their retinas that makes objects look sharper and clearer at night.


So, in conclusion, yes, deer can see in the dark quite well. Their eyes have a special mechanism of “Tapetum Lucidum” which helps them to see in low light levels. They use rods and cones for interpreting and perceiving colors. Deer are dichromatic and primarily see blue and green colors only. They are good at viewing colors of shorter wavelength and struggles to see colors with large wavelengths, such as red and orange colors.

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