May 30, 2011

Reindeer, UV Light, and Marketing

Results of a study that show Arctic reindeer can see into the ultraviolet spectrum have been getting some attention.
The frozen wastes of the Arctic reflect around 90 per cent of the UV light that hits them; snow-free land typically reflects only a few per cent. So [Glen] Jeffery and colleagues wondered whether reindeers had adapted to their UV-rich world.
Fair enough. I had understood that birds, too, could see more UV than we do. Consequently, what looks like dull plumage in a bird species may actually be more vivid in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum.

What puzzles me is that two decades ago I was introduced to products like U-V-Killer, marketed to hunters. There is a spray to make your clothing non-UV-reflective as well as a detergent for washing hunting clothes—virtually all commercial laundry detergents contain optical brighteners that cause clothes to reflect more at that end of the visible spectrum, thus seeming brighter. (Notice how the chemical brightens under ultraviolet illumination in the photo.)

The pitch is that you want hunting clothes to reflect less ultraviolet light, so you use the special detergents and sprays.

Therefore, is this reindeer research really nothing new? Just another example of gee-whiz science reporting?

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