You know that supremely uncomfortable feeling you get when there's a stray eyelash caught in your eye? You find yourself sitting there, rubbing it subconsciously, and the whole world just has to stop for a minute because it's so distracting.
Well, imagine that, but instead of hands to retrieve the stray hair, you have hooves. And it's not just one stray hair, it's a whole bunch of them.
A report of a "sick deer" made to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has produced a blend of awe, disgust and cringe, thanks to a Tennessee buck found with corneal dermoids -- otherwise known as hairy eyeballs.
The whitetail deer was found bleeding and disoriented in Farragut, a suburb of Knoxville in east Tennessee, in late August 2020. Animal control were forced to dispatch of the deer, but sent the head off for analysis at the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study unit (SCWDS) of the University of Georgia vet school.
While the deer was posthumously found to have epizootic hemorrhagic disease -- an infectious and often fatal virus that afflicts whitetail deer -- another notable aspect was discovered: The deer's corneas were almost completely covered in discs of hair.
Written by Dr. Nicole Nemeth and research technician Michelle Willis, the official report from the SCWDS stated, "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."
So it's likely that the deer had these corneal dermoids for quite some time, progressively worsening until its vision was almost completely obscured.
According to Sterling Daniels of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, "It maybe could tell day from dark, but I wouldn't think it would be able to see where it was going. I'd compare it to covering your eyes with a washcloth. You could tell day from night, but that's about it."
It's only the second deer ever to be documented with corneal dermoids.