(NEXSTAR) – A disoriented whitetail deer reported in a Tennessee suburb was found to have both its eyeballs covered in hair, according to the National Deer Association.
The one-year-old buck was reported to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency after it was seen circling on a street in Farragut, a Knoxville suburb.
The eye condition is called a corneal dermoid. A dermoid is a benign tumor that occurs when tissue grows in the wrong place on the body.
Dr. Nicole Nemeth and research technician Michelle Willis, with the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study unit at the University of Georgia, wrote in a recent report that the deer had skin where its cornea — the transparent part of the eye covering the iris and pupil — should have been.
“Corneal dermoids, as in the case of this deer, often contain elements of normal skin, including hair follicles, sweat glands, collagen, and fat,” they wrote. “The masses generally are benign (noninvasive) and are congenital, likely resulting from an embryonal developmental defect.”
Residents first noticed the deer in August 2020. It was bleeding, disoriented and apparently showed no fear of humans. Animal control officers suspected it had chronic wasting disease (CWD) and euthanized the animal to prevent the disease from spreading.
Tests later revealed that the deer didn’t have CWD but instead had epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), which can cause fever and disorientation.
Nemeth told the Quality Whitetails, the National Deer Association’s official magazine, that the deer appeared to have had the eye condition since birth.
“So we surmised that it survived a long time with those,” Nemeth said. “We also assumed the dermoids developed gradually and that the deer was able to adapt to its decreasing field of vision over time.”
The deer was nursed and protected for months by a doe that was possibly nearby when the buck contracted EHD, according to the association.
There have only ever been two reports of a deer with corneal dermoids. The first was killed in 2007 by a hunter in Louisiana.