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Study: Reindeer Vision Evolved to Spot Favorite Food, Post-Flight Feast

Reindeer's eyes have evolved to spot their preferred meal. Researchers from Dartmouth College and the University of St. Andrews report.

The reindeer at Lappeasuando near Kiruna, Sweden, are getting ready to be released onto the winter pastures. The harsh, cold environment makes it difficult for these animals to find food, but researchers from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and the University of St. Andrews in Scotland have discovered that reindeer's eyes may have evolved to help them easily spot their preferred meal.

It's no secret that reindeer are famous for pulling Santa's sleigh, but their vision is truly remarkable, according to Nathaniel Dominy, a Dartmouth anthropology professor and co-author of a recent study published in the journal i-Perception. He believes that reindeer have a fascinating visual system that sets them apart from other animals.

Scientists have known for years that reindeer's eyes change color depending on the season, but they weren't sure what to make of another curious fact: reindeer can see light in the ultraviolet spectrum. This ability to see UV light could protect reindeer from predators and help them spot their primary food source: light-colored reindeer moss.

Researchers discovered that reindeer moss absorbs UV light, making it stand out as dark patches against the snow. This allows reindeer to conserve energy by efficiently finding their food source. Juan Jose Negro, a specialist in evolutionary ecology and conservation biology, found the reindeer research intriguing and believes it can help further the understanding of how animals deal with difficult environments.

The study also has potential human implications. There has been a lot of pharmacological research on lichens, as they have antioxidant properties. Reindeer eyes allowing in UV light suggests there might be a mechanism in place to protect them from damage. This could have implications for human health, as reindeer eyes are full of ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, which is great for repairing damaged cells.

With this new understanding of reindeer vision, kids may want to focus on Rudolph's eyes and save the milk and cookies for Santa this Christmas Eve.

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