What are piebald deer and how rare are they?

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Have you ever heard of a deer that should never be hunted because it could ruin your future hunting experience? Well, these rumors are about piebald deer, so let's talk about them today! Read on to learn all about piebald animals, what piebald deer look like, and what their population symbolizes!

What are piebald animals?

Rare Type Cat Turkey Van
Versicolor is a lack of melanocytes in specific areas of skin and hair.

©Vadim Petrakov/Shutterstock.com

Animals known as piebald have a pigmented background of hair, scales, or feathers with a distinctive pattern of white (unpigmented) spots. This condition, called versicolor, is a lack of melanocytes (mature melanin-forming cells) in specific areas of skin and hair.

Versicolor occurs more often than we think. It is common in almost all mammalian species. Spotted animals include:

  • deer
  • birds
  • ox
  • cat
  • puppy
  • horses
  • fox
  • pig
  • snake
  • cetaceans

The word "piebald" is a portmanteau of "pie" and "bald", the former meaning "magpie" and the latter meaning "white spot".

What is a piebald deer?

piebald deer
A piebald deer is a deer with white spots on a colored background.

© iStock.com/Brittany Crossman

As mentioned in the definition above, a piebald deer is a deer with white spots on a colored background. All piebald deer have unique patterns. Some may be almost completely white with small brown patches. Some may only have a few small white spots.

Spotted deer have brown eyes and noses. Mottling disease in deer may be accompanied by short legs, short mandibles, arched spines, malformations of internal organs, deformed hooves, or a bowed nose.

Some deer may be born with several or all of the above health problems, while others may have no problems and be perfectly healthy.

Are piebald deer rare?

Spotted deer are extremely rare. David Osborn, wildlife research coordinator at the Deer Research Institute at the University of Georgia, confirmed that research shows piebald deer make up less than 2 percent of the herd! However, if we compare them with albino or melanized deer, spotted deer are the most common!

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Even if the piebald populations increased, it wouldn't change a thing, as their color makes them extremely vulnerable in the wild, and many end up being killed by predators anyway. Because of their unique patterns, predators can easily spot and attack them.

The symbolism and mythology of the piebald deer

piebald whitetail deer
Indian tribes considered the piebald deer to be the embodiment of spirits that pass in and out of the spirit world.

© iStock.com/luvemakphoto

Would you believe us if we told you that legend has it that killing a piebald deer will bring bad luck and even curse the hunter on future hunts? Superstitious hunters think that seeing just one deer means they have a bad hunting experience, and some even give up hunting temporarily. People in some parts of Europe even believe that whoever kills a piebald deer will die within a year.

However, contrary to hunting symbolism, Indian culture views the piebald deer from a completely different perspective. Indian tribes considered the piebald deer to be the embodiment of spirits that pass in and out of the spirit world. Spotting deer means change is at hand. The Indians have a deep respect for the piebald deer population, and hunting is prohibited. Research shows that piebald deer are still alive thanks to conservation efforts by Indian tribes.

Spotted deer and black deer

Melanism and versicolor are different diseases. The spotted deer has a whitish-brown coat, while the melanistic deer has dark, sometimes black hair. This occurs due to genetic mutations that lead to overproduction of pigment. Compared with piebald deer, the dark fur of melanized deer gives them a huge advantage in hiding from predators.

piebald deer and albino deer

Albino white-tailed deer (odocoileus virginianus) standing in Wausau, Wisconsin
Albino deer have pink or red eyes.


As mentioned earlier, piebald deer have brown hair and white spots. However, albino deer are completely white. They are extremely rare, much rarer than spotted deer. Also, piebald deer have plain brown eyes, while albino deer have pink or red eyes and may have poor eyesight. They are more vulnerable to hunting and predation.

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Should you shoot piebald deer?

If you believe in superstitions, then of course piebald deer are not recommended! Other than that, if you shoot piebald deer, you shouldn't have any problems as long as you know they are not protected in the area you are hunting.

We recommend checking beforehand as piebald deer are now protected in many areas. For example, until a few years ago, Oklahoma required written permission signed by the state wildlife director to shoot piebald deer. Additionally, it is illegal to shoot white deer or primarily white deer in Iowa.

Some people believe that shooting piebald deer is good for the herd. Why? Since versicolor is associated with several health problems, reducing their numbers may limit spread. However, study coordinator David Osborn, whom we mentioned, confirmed that killing them would have little effect on reducing versicolor because the hidden gene would continue to spread.

Other Types of Rare Deer

If you're a deer lover, you might want to learn about other rare types of deer. Here are some of them:

  • Visayan sika deer – it is one of the smallest species of deer in the world. Today, there are only about 300 Visayan sika deer in the world, all of which are cared for by humans; the IUCN lists this species as endangered, and it is considered one of the rarest deer species in the world;
  • Key Deer – This deer only lives in the Florida Keys; it has a reddish-brown coat and likes the company of people; there are only about 800 key deer left in the wild;
  • Little red brocket – a small deer of the deer family with a white underbelly and overall reddish fur; nocturnal and found in the Andes region of South America; IUCN lists this species as Vulnerable;
  • Northern pudu – the smallest deer species, weighing about 15 pounds, with small antlers; it lives primarily in the rainforests of South America;
  • Chinese sambar – This deer is often called a "blood-sucking deer" because of its canine teeth; there are only about 10,000 specimens of Chinese sambar left in the wild.
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  • Albino Deer: How Common Are White Deer?
  • Largest white-tailed deer ever spotted
  • Deer Populations by State: How Many Deer Are There in the United States?

More from AZ Animals

featured image

piebald deer
A piebald deer is a deer with white spots on a colored background.

© iStock.com/Brittany Crossman

about the author

jeremiah wright

I have seven years of professional experience in the content field, focusing on nature and wildlife. Besides writing, I also enjoy surfing the Internet and listening to music.

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  1. World Deer, available here: https://worlddeer.org/piebald-deer/
  2. Realtree, available here: https://www.realtree.com/brow-tines-and-backstrap/should-you-hunt-piebald-deer
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  4. Berlin Zoo, available here: https://www.zoo-berlin.de/en/species-conservation/worldwide/visayan-spotted-deer