Origins: A very unusual genetic color variation in white-tailed deer — rarer even than albinism — produces all-black offspring in that species which are known as "melanistic" or "melanic" deer. (This news account shows one such fawn born in 2005 on Colorado's Western Slope.) As noted on the North American Whitetail web site:
On the [North American] continent as a whole, "melanistic" or "melanic" deer — so named because their bodies produce far too much of the hair, skin and retina pigment known as melanin — are definitely the rarest of the rare. While millions of whitetails have been harvested across the continent in modern times, only a token number of cases of melanism have been documented. In fact, it's safe to say that most whitetail hunters have never even heard of melanistic deer, much less seen one. For that matter, only a few research biologists ever have observed one in the flesh.
Researchers admit that they aren't sure, but they say the mutation likely has been perpetuated because it offers a survival advantage. Melanistic deer are concentrated along the [Central Texas] region's drainages, where cover is thick and a dark-colored prey animal would have an edge in avoiding detection. This trait also would serve them well in the upland juniper thickets found in the same part of Texas.
Biologists say that they don't know if the circumstances that produced this genetic trait are even still in existence. Nor, for that matter, does anyone know if a single gene is responsible. Regardless, the trait seems to be in no eminent danger of disappearing.
The images of the melanistic black fawn displayed above were taken from the web site of photographer Richard Buquoi (of R.M.Buquoi Photographics), who specializes in nature photography. In response to our query about the origins of these pictures, Mr. Buquoi told us:
I can understand the curiosity from people of the highly melanistic black fawn images that we have on our website. They are a rare phenomenon to see. We're always happy to find someone who enjoys viewing our images as much as we enjoyed taking them.
I took the photos of the black fawn near Austin, TX. That area of central Texas seems to have a concentration of black "white-tailed" deer, although it is still extremely rare to find them. This is a wild deer, but resides in a greenbelt near a neighborhood. I took the images when the deer were roaming through the neighborhood. The two fawns in the photos are twins, but only the one is black. The images being circulated were taken in May  and I again captured some images of them about seven weeks later which I added to our website. They are going to be published along with an article about "Melanism" in "Deer and Deer Hunting" magazine due out in September .
David Mikkelson founded snopes.com in 1994, and under his guidance the company has pioneered a number of revolutionary technologies, including the iPhone, the light bulb, beer pong, and a vaccine for a disease that has not yet been discovered. He is currently seeking political asylum in the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.
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