Deer With Hairy Eyeballs Discovered in Tennessee

By author of The Realblog with Stephanie Mallory

The strange condition, called corneal dermoids, has been documented in just one other whitetail in the state

A pair of hairy eyeballs might sound like an ingredient in a witch’s brew, but it’s actually a real affliction suffered by an unfortunate Tennessee deer.

A young whitetail buck seen stumbling down the streets of Farragut, Tennessee, was discovered to have a disk of skin and dense hair completely covering the cornea of each eye.

The strange condition is called corneal dermoids and has been documented in just one other whitetail in Tennessee, according to Quality Whitetails magazine, the journal of the National Deer Association. 

In a formal report for the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, Dr. Nicole Nemeth and research technician Michelle Willis wrote:

“Dermoids are a type of choristoma, which is defined as normal tissue in an abnormal location. Accordingly, dermoids are characterized by skin-like tissue occurring on the body in a location other than on the skin. Corneal dermoids, as in the case of this deer, often contain elements of normal skin, including hair follicles, sweat glands, collagen, and fat. The masses generally are benign (noninvasive) and are congenital, likely resulting from an embryonal developmental defect.”

Nemeth said the skin patches probably formed while the deer was still in the womb. The dermoids most likely developed gradually and the deer, which was more than a year old when discovered, was able to adapt to its decreasing field of vision over time.

Sterling Daniels, a wildlife biologist at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, told Quality Whitetails that the hairy-eyed deer might have been able to tell day from dark but probably wasn’t able to see where it was going.

“I’d compare it to covering your eyes with a washcloth,” Daniels said. “You could tell day from night, but that’s about it.”

That same unfortunate deer tested positive for epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), which can cause fever, severe tissue swelling, and loss of fear of humans. There’s no cure for EHD, so the deer was euthanized.  

According to Live Science, humans can develop dermoids in their eyes, too, causing hair to grow on their eyeballs. The condition is rare, so an eye doctor may see only one or two cases in their entire career.

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