We have our fair share of wildlife legends here in the West. Bigfoot has been spotted all over the Pacific Northwest and Tahoe Tessie is seen from time to time patrolling the waters up at Lake Tahoe.
So when locals in Winnemucca began reporting sightings of a solid black mule deer, some people may have started to get their nicknames ready for the next big legend of Nevada.
Mike Cox, big game biologist at the Nevada Department of Wildlife, has his own name for the phantom deer he calls it a genetic alteration.
It’s not quite as catchy as Tahoe Tessie, but it does explain things.
“It looks like it fell into an oil spill, but obviously we don’t have those in the middle of Nevada,” jokes Cox.
“There are genes that map out the characteristics of an animal in its embryonic stage. Sometimes it’s a funky hoof, or a tweaked antler, or in this case the hairs of this mule deer are a different color than the normal mule. Sometimes there are recessive traits that are hidden in those genes that never see the light of day except for maybe one in a million, or one in two million.”
NDOW biologist Ed Partee states that black mule deer have been spotted before in Nevada.
“We have seen these black deer in the past in Humboldt County, mainly in the Jacksons, but we haven’t seen it for quite some time,” said Partee.
Cox reports that there appears to be nothing else out of the ordinary with the black mule deer doe other than its striking color.
“It’s definitely unusual. We may never see it again for a generation, or 50 years, or we may see it next year,” said Cox. “It’s almost like slot machines. You have to pull that slot machine a long, long time until you get the right combination, and that’s what happened with this melanistic mutation.”