Magpie deer with genetic defect found in County Monroe

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A man from County Monroe had a unique encounter with a rare type of deer near his home.

“It was very surprising,” Bill Dolph said of the sight of a pied deer. He was driving on November 29 along Chariton Drive in Brushy Mountain Road near his home in Smithfield Township near East Stroudsburg when he sighted the mostly white animal.

“I said ‘this is weird'” and I first wondered if it was a goat or a calf. “Is that a big old dog,” he mused, realizing he was walking like a deer.

“That’s when he clicked,” he said, realizing it was a deer.

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“At first I thought he had mange,” he said of hair disorder in animals. “But it wasn’t mangey at all. It was beautiful and clean. What you expect from a healthy deer.

Bill Dolph of Monroe County was surprised to see this magpie deer on November 29 near his home in Smithfield Township.  Deer have a rare genetic mutation that has changed their color from mostly brown to white.

He was able to use his cell phone camera to take several pictures of the deer which was only about 20 meters from the roadway.

“It was healthy. He seemed to be happy, ”he said of the animal’s behavior.

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Even though he thinks the area is closed to hunting, he was concerned that the deer would get too close to the road.

When he got home, he researched albino deer online, and that’s when he discovered magpie genetics.

Bill Dolph of Monroe County was surprised to see this magpie deer on November 29 near his home in Smithfield Township.  Deer have a rare genetic mutation that has changed their color from mostly brown to white.

“I’ve never seen it before,” he said of the deer walking near his house, “and we saw a lot of it.” He spoke to another local person who believes the animal was in the community in August as well.

Jeannine Fleegle, wildlife biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, confirmed Thursday that the photo showed a magpie deer. The piebald condition, she explained, is an inherited genetic trait. It causes spots of unpigmented areas that vary in size and distribution. The result is a wide array of patterns.

Bill Dolph of Monroe County was surprised to see this magpie deer on November 29 near his home in Smithfield Township.  Deer have a rare genetic mutation that has changed their color from mostly brown to white.

Some deer have whitewashed spots or flanks or the markings of a price pinto. Others are almost entirely white. But if they have the brown eyes and black hooves of the classic white-tailed deer, they are still magpie, not albino.

“There are millions of genetic combinations, and it’s sure to show up somewhere,” she said of the unique color markings on this deer.

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Fleegle said they are rare, but “people see them every year.” Piebalds and albinos are accepted by other deer and can be seen roaming the woods and fields with other deer.

In addition to the white color, piebalds are also shorter than most deer. Fleegle said they also usually had other abnormalities that could include a dorsal curvature of the nose, short legs, curvature of the spine, deviated limb joints (turned feet) and internal organ deformities.

People with severe deformities die at birth or soon after. She said limited observations indicate that the magpie deer can breed with “normal” deer and produce both normal and magpie calves. However, not all attempts at mating two magpie deer were successful in producing offspring.

She said the genetic mutation is less than 1% of the population, but there may be more than that. “It’s a genetic anomaly,” she explained, adding that it is fair game for hunters, like other white-tailed deer. “It depends on their personal beliefs,” she said of hunters agreeing to take a magpie or albino deer.

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“They are different and people want to protect them,” she said of the scattered creatures.

Dolph, 64, said it was only the second predominantly white deer he had ever seen. The other deer was about 15 years ago in Virginia, and he can’t remember if it was a real albino or a magpie.

When it comes to hunting a deer with a unique coloring, there may be stigmas of bad luck attached to harvesting such a creature.

Dolph doesn’t hunt. “It’s too much work,” he said.

“If I were to hunt, I personally would have no qualms about doing it,” he said of magpies being rare but not unheard of in Pennsylvania. “It was beautiful.”

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Reflecting on the encounter, he said: “You never know what you’ll see come out of the woods.”

Brian Whipkey is the outside columnist for USA Today Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at [email protected] and sign up for our weekly Outdoors newsletter email. on your website home page under your login name.

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