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In my setting, every mythical humanoid creature humanity ever came up with (and most of the non-humanoid ones too, though it's more complicated there) either exists, or at one point used to exist before going extinct. They're collectively referred to as immortals, so called because the active magic within them prevents them from getting old or sick. Each species initially originated when a human with a high concentration of untapped magic in their blood spontaneously mutated in reaction to the magical energies in their environment, transforming into the first of that species that expanded out by reproducing with humans and then eventually their own kind (reproducing with humans does not dilute their genetics in any way).

Since werewolves have the added advantage of being able to directly transform humans into more of themselves, they are one of the most prominent and dominant immortal species on earth, and have centuries of history of humans encountering them before the 1800s when immortals started getting more strict about making sure humans had no concrete proof they were real.

Which causes a problem for me. See, for the most part I don't want to change much between what humans think these creatures are like in real life and what humans think these creatures are like in the story. Not all of those myths are true, of course, but enough is true that you can kinda see where the misconceptions came from in most cases. However, one trait of werewolves in my setting is that their fur color is identical to the hair color of the werewolf's human form. So most werewolves are blond, black, brown or red, with the most powerful bloodline of werewolves sporting hair and fur of a deep crimson.

So why on earth do nearly all depictions of werewolves in mythology or pop culture portray them as gray, a color that, due to their immortality, either none or precious few of them are ever going to have?

Getting details wrong over the centuries is one thing, but you'd think that if the most powerful werewolves on earth had fur the color of blood, that'd be a pretty vivid detail that wouldn't get lost in the telling. It'd be like forgetting that vampires have fangs. Arguably even more weird.

So why did it happen? Why is there basically no trace in popular culture of the idea of the blood red werewolf being the strongest of them all, and why did the popular depiction wind up becoming a color that almost none of them actually were?

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    $\begingroup$ most humans have never seen a wolf and they think they are all gray because they are called gray wolves. $\endgroup$
    – John
    May 13 at 4:57
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    $\begingroup$ The shortage of suitable red pigment for the illustrations in the books describing the werewolves, of course. $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    May 13 at 6:21
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    $\begingroup$ As the French say, "la nuit, tous les chats sont gris" -- at night all the cats are gray. Fun fact: the human night vision system is monochrome (cannot perceive color), so that if werewolves are encountered in their lupine form when scotopic vision is active then they will naturally be all gray. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    May 13 at 15:20
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP Are you trying to claim that blond werewolves all use hair dye? That's just vicious and misolupinic. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    May 13 at 15:47
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    $\begingroup$ What, nobody explained why old-timey things were black and white to you when you were a kid? $\endgroup$ May 14 at 14:53

18 Answers 18

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You said it: details get wrong over the centuries, due to the overlapping mixture of slightly different accounts, fading memories and cultural influences.

Take the example of the lion: it was known to Europeans, in particular Romans, for being seen in countless gladiator's games across the empire. So you would expect that accounts on lions would be decently accurate past the Roman Empire and in the middle age, right? Well, this is what a medieval bestiary would tell about them

The lion has three natures: when a lion walking in the mountains sees that it is being hunted, it erases its tracks with its tail; it always sleeps with its eyes open; and its cubs are born dead and are brought to life on the third day when the mother breathes in their faces or the father roars over them. Some sources add more natures: a lion only kills out of great hunger; it will not attack a prostrate man; it allows captive men to depart; it is not easily angered; the lioness first has five cubs, then one less each year.

In particular, having red hair is already a rare tract among humans, so it's pretty easy to have it mistaken for an inaccuracy in the tale and "corrected" to a more common color.

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    $\begingroup$ A greyscale image in a bestiary which doesn't mention the colouring outright might help, too. $\endgroup$
    – Anon
    May 13 at 3:46
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It was night time

Werewolves are smart and deadly predators. It's rare for someone to see one and survive, and actual colours are hard to tell when all you see is a flash in the moonlight. They're smart enough to avoid groups of humans and avoid well lit areas.

enter image description here
(Source)

If a werewolf is killed, it immediately reverts to its human form so people don't know what it looked like as a wolf.

The end result is people don't actually know what they look like and just assume they look like a grey timber wolf.

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  • $\begingroup$ It also occurred to me: If people _expect a grey wolf, and see the wrong color, that may increase the time they stand stunned, leading to more fatalities, and therefore fewer witnesses. $\endgroup$ May 13 at 20:22
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    $\begingroup$ We see this in the real world where thousands of children drown every year while their parents watch them in confusion, because Hollywood convinced everyone that downing looks very different than it actually does. Also same thing with people not going to the hospital because they think they haven't had a heart attack, because it didn't look like Hollywood. $\endgroup$ May 13 at 20:23
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    $\begingroup$ Furthering this, your color vision doesn't work in low-light conditions. At night, everything is shades of grey. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    May 13 at 21:24
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    $\begingroup$ "all cats are grey in the dark" $\endgroup$ May 13 at 23:26
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for this answer. As it is the top-voted answer, I feel I owe you an explanation for why I didn't pick it. It has nothing to do with the quality of the answer. If this were some other werewolf story it would probably be perfectly acceptable. But a detail I didn't mention is that the werewolves in my story don't only transform under the full moon. They have the ability to freely transform at any time, as long as they are exposed to the moon or the sun. So naturally the night isn't going to obscure their color all the time. $\endgroup$ May 15 at 23:17
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90% of "Werewolf" sightings are of actual wolves.

There are three separate groups of people who are perpetuating stories about werewolves:

  1. People who have seen or are aware of actual werewolves.
  2. People who have seen normal wolves, panicked, and thought they were seeing werewolves.
  3. People who saw normal wolves, didn't think they were werewolves, but depicted them as werewolves for artistic purposes.

It is people in group 1 have established most of the werewolf mythos (fullmoon, how it spreads, etc.). However, people who saw a gray wolf on a full moon often reported, "I saw a gray werewolf!" These people aren't the origin of the werewolf mythos; they just know of the werewolf mythos and incorrectly pointed at a gray wolf as an example of the claim. Finally, people who are aware of the werewolf mythos and want to draw a werewolf will often use gray, since they are using reference images of wolves for their artwork (see also Daron's Answer ).

I think this explanation fits very well with OP's intent to set his story in the real world, since real-world explanations of werewolves could still use the 2nd and 3rd point.

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    $\begingroup$ Worth noting that most artistic depictions would likely be quick pencil or charcoal drawings, and thus naturally in black and white. Only a relative few artists would take the time to do full-color paintings. And the Venn diagram between artists with the skill, time, and desire to go to all that effort and people with actual experience seeing a real werewolf would have a very small overlap. $\endgroup$ May 13 at 14:15
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Frame Challenge

The only werewolves the average human ever saw were old...

I'm really fond of a 1980s version of Robin Hood called "Robin of Sherwood" (the one with Michael Praed and Jason Connery). An episode or two into the change from Michael Praed as Robin of Loxely to Jason Connery as Robert Huntington we get a relevant quote from the character of Will Scarlet:

We used to be fast... fast as wolves.

Wolves are fast! And they're sneaky. And as a result, they're really rare to see. Especially werewolves where they're either sapient or retain some amount of their human cunning. They know enough to stay away from humans. Or, perhaps more precisely, to stay away from whatever they can't kill. (🎜Little old lady mutilated late last night... werewolves again!🎝)

So, what werewolves have been seen my humanity?

The old ones...

The werewolves that can't sneak as well, aren't as fast, that can't guarantee killing the prey before detection. What humanity records seeing far, far more often than anything else is the graying hair of an aged werewolf.

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    $\begingroup$ he specifically said they never age $\endgroup$
    – zackit
    May 13 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ @zackit Aw, rats.... I missed that. But, that's why Frame Challenges exist. Thanks for pointing it out. $\endgroup$ May 13 at 15:20
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    $\begingroup$ Not a real issue even if they don't age. They could have turned after they were already aged, and the same caveats would still apply. An elderly human turned werewolf can still be less agile than a young human turned werewolf. $\endgroup$
    – March Ho
    May 13 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ Or the magic anti-ageing effect only kicks in from a certain age (otherwise all immortals born as immortals would be stuck as babies forever), and that age happens to be after some physical fitness has been lost, and hair has turned grey. $\endgroup$
    – kaya3
    May 14 at 10:21
  • $\begingroup$ @kaya3 That's a very good point. $\endgroup$ May 14 at 18:57
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Some ideas in addition to what has already been suggested:

Already Grey-haired

Since werewolves have the added advantage of being able to directly transform humans into more of themselves

Building a bit on JBH's idea, here, but with werewolves turned from old humans rather than long-lived werewolves themselves.

Some of the humans that were transformed into werewolves were already old and grey-haired. They don't age in werewolf form, but presumably before becoming a werewolf they aged as normal. Having already spent most of their human life among humans, they were more likely to miss their home or the people they knew, and go back (and be seen). Perhaps the transition to werewolf life is a lot easier for the young and red-haired, so they're less tempted to visit the village of their youth.

the active magic within them prevents them from getting old or sick

If they were already old in the first place and the magic doesn't reverse that, another reason for more grey-haired werewolf sightings could be that the ones who were older when turned are slower and less agile, and easier to spot.

Camouflaged

If your werewolves want to remain unnoticed by humans, perhaps they could have dyed their fur grey so that if they are seen, they're more likely to be taken for a regular old wolf and not a werewolf. (After all, regular wolves don't have bright red fur.)

Confused with regular wolves

In addition to this, people of your world could confuse wolf sightings with werewolf sightings. Since wolf sightings are probably more common than werewolf sightings, most "werewolf sightings" would be of a creature with grey fur.

Red hair assumed to be bloodstained

Because werewolves are like wolves, and wolves are grey, a werewolf who is bright red may be assumed to be red from blood.

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  • $\begingroup$ Your first few points are excellent, but I don’t think “bloodstained” works at all. Bloodied fur is a completely different colour from red hair — fresh blood on pale fur in good light is a pinkish red; with older blood, low light, or on dark fur, it looks black. Also it’s always going to be splotchy, not even all over. Red hair by contrast is generally on the orange side of red, and in lower light just looks like brown or blonde hair. I can’t imagine anyone familiar with animals mistaking red fur for bloodied fur. $\endgroup$ May 13 at 11:18
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterLeFanuLumsdaine "There's a wolf there!" is not a time to look carefully at color. Even if it's not a werewolf. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    May 13 at 13:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Mary: sure — I’m not suggesting “you would look carefully and be able to tell the difference”, I’m saying that the red-haired werewolf wouldn’t make you think of blood in the first place. It just wouldn’t give that impression at all. $\endgroup$ May 13 at 14:36
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If it's not gray, nobody lives to tell about it (aka Survivorship Bias)

Old gray humans turn into old gray werewolves. They are still strong and fast, but less so than younger werewolves.

Simply put, the stories always recall gray werewolves because if a crimson werewolf in it's prime hunts someone, there is never anyone left to talk about it. The only werewolves weak enough that you even stand a chance of escaping are the gray ones.

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All werewolves are gray at night

Werewolves are a nocturnal species, they literally exist (int wolf form) only during the night.
In the past, when the myth of the werewolf was established, nights were very dark because of the lack of artificial light (candles and torches hardly could provide a decent light).

In low light conditions, human retinas can rely only on the rod cells (this is called scotopic vision), which are sensitive to light, but not to color. So, all men that saw and/or were attacked by a werewolf (and were lucky enough to survive) could see them only as gray creatures.
As a bonus, writing this answer I discovered the Purkinje effect, which says that since rod cells are more sensitive to blue light and less to red light, red things look even darker in the night: a red-haired werewolf would probably look even grayer than an ordinary werewolf in a dark setting

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Historical depictions of werewolves are hilariously inaccurate

If you look at medieval depictions of animals, a common trend is that they are often painfully inaccurate with regards to how the animal actually looked. This was especially the case when people were trying to reconstruct animals they had no context for in their daily lives, e.g., Europeans who had never set food outside of Europe trying to depict lions, tigers, rhinoceroses, elephants, or crocodiles.

enter image description here

This is supposed to be a crocodile. Yes, really. If you want to be amused by some hilariously off-base animal drawings, here are some examples.

https://www.ranker.com/list/inaccurate-historical-drawings-of-animals/danielle-ownbey https://mossandfog.com/the-comically-bad-way-medieval-art-portrayed-lions/ https://imgur.com/gallery/MpRBy

In many cases, illustrators would fill in missing bits of animals they had never seen with other animals. E.g., in Europe's case this often resulted in filling in bits of African and Asian megafauna with domestic dogs, cats, and horses. I can't find it now but I remember one picture of a...I think it was a lion, that the author very clearly filled in the missing bits in using dog anatomy and the end result looked like a dog in a wig.

What amplified this was that the artists had neither seen the animal in question firsthand (causing depictions to be distorted in a game of telephone, this is believed to be what turned a rhinoceros into a a karkadann, a chiru into a unicorn, and a tiger into a manticore), nor had any physical specimen they could use for comparison. This gives you a good idea as to how werewolves would be so distorted, it's really hard to accurately portray a creature that you likely only saw once, in a panicked situation, and can't go back and double-check what they look like to make sure your depiction is accurate. It's likely any artist would just fill in gaps in their depiction of a werewolf with real wolf colors because they think "oh, they're not too different from a wolf, right?"

This actually has some basis in reality. Blond or black wolves do exist, and there are real wolves with red fur (not to be confused with the red wolf, Canis rufus, which is a species that originated from a hybridization event between coyotes and gray wolves in the U.S. circa the 11th century A.D.). Similarly, modern pop culture invariably displays mammoths as brunettes or redheads, when we know from preserved carcasses in Siberian permafrost that black and blonde mammoths were a thing.

Of course, the thing is virtually no human displays hair that would look like the typical wild-type coat pattern for Canis lupus, beyond the few natural platinum blondes and individuals whose hair is going gray. The majority of werewolves would appear some shade of brown given most humans are brunettes.

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Pop culture screwed it up.

Many people in our world think of wolves as being gray, despite gray wolves being only one of a wide variety of wolf breeds, because "wolves" in movies and TV shows are commonly portrayed by huskies instead.

Biologically speaking, domesticated dogs are just another type of wolf. They are the same species, and capable of interbreeding with one another. But domestication causes noticeable physical changes in creatures. No one's going to look at a poodle or a chihuahua (or even a larger hound or mastiff) and say "that's a wolf." But huskies still look enough like their feral forebears, despite being domesticated and thus much easier for animal trainers to work with, that they're frequently brought in when Hollywood needs to portray a "wolf" doing something specific on screen.

Since most people don't have personal encounters with wild wolves these days, their only touchpoint is what they see on TV. Therefore, wolves look like huskies, and have gray fur.

If your world is close enough to ours, the same misunderstanding could exist for the same reason.

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Who told the stories about wolves? Why do you think it wasn't the wolves telling lies to make their lives easier?

For the same reasons people think Garlic and Crosses stops Vampires... These are the same people who believe the earth is flat. They'll believe ANYTHING if said with confidence.

Wolves have white hair! They are 8 feet tall!!! NOTHING CAN KILL THEM except "silver bullets"!!!

I mean really... what can you believe when the wolves are amoungst us and they control the stories?

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    $\begingroup$ "Deliberate misinformation" is an underrated idea. +1 $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    May 14 at 3:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Tom I think you could even pull it further in a world with "Supernaturals" and have, say, Wolves running CNN and Vampires running Fox news (or the equivalents of the polar opposite news stations constantly and increasingly ramping up bad news about the other.) Especially with creatures like Vampires that live longer (and do we really know how long Werewolves live? based on "common knowledge" we've already established is untrustworthy). $\endgroup$
    – WernerCD
    May 14 at 19:15
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Red Werewolves Don't Hunt

Or more explicitly, they don't hunt random humans. Red werewolves, as the most powerful of their kind, are naturally the leaders. Leaders don't just go running around in random villages every full moon. Instead they have special areas where designated humans (no doubt chosen for their tastiness or evasive qualities) are placed to be hunted. Since these hunts NEVER end in escape by the prey, and are in areas secluded from normal humans, Red werewolves are simply never seen. Any descriptor of a "red werewolf" which reaches normal humans is taken for allegory once they go into hiding.

"Vespasian describes the werewolf-king as red, but obviously "Red" is just an honorific given by werewolves to their leaders. Or possibly a title given by Vespasian to describe the werewolf-king's power and bloodlust." - Any given English Teacher in your universe discussing the one reference to a Red Werewolf.

The rest can easily be explained away by darkness. Blonde/brown werewolves will look grey in the moonlight. By the time a few centuries have passed the odd reference to a "blonde" or other non-grey werewolf could be explained away as artistic license by the author using the werewolves "natural" human hair color as the wolf's fur color.

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  • $\begingroup$ Terrific Idea! And, old werewolves look gray because in their human forms they’ve dyed their hair to not look so old. $\endgroup$
    – EDL
    May 13 at 12:05
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Wolves are gray

People think of werewolves as human-wolf hybrids. People think wolves are gray. For example a Google search for wolves returns the following.

enter image description here

If the above represents the average idea of what a wolf looks like -- ie mostly gray but with a few exceptions being mostly black or white -- then the average idea of a werewolf should be mostly gray too.

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For the Same Reason People Though Native Americans were "Redskins"

Nomadic peoples across many parts of the world often paint themselves in mud or clay. This helps mask your scent for hunting, repels insects, and protects you from the sun. Since your werewolves are likewise a primitive hunter society, but still having human like intelligence, they would likely do the same.

One theory is that Native Americans were often mistakenly believed to be red-skinned because they would paint themselves in the red clays common to the American Midwest, but if your werewolves were native to a place with mostly grey mud, like you normally see in wetter climates, then they would paint themselves grey.

So, even if you do see a red, blonde, or black werewolf out on the hunt, chances are they will look grey.

enter image description here

... or maybe it has nothing to do with fur color at all...

As comments point out below, the Native American association with the color red may have had nothing to do with body painting at all. "Red" was just a title that certain Natives used to refer to themselves as, and the term got blown way out of proportion due to cultural ignorance and lack of actual exposure as the Native American race mostly died off. Since the Werewolves have retreated from interacting with humans, they are under the same sort of cultural relation with us that the Natives have with European Americans.

It is possible that Grey was just a term given to certain werewolves.

  • It could have been a prominent clan name like the "Grey Wolf Clan"
  • It could have been a title or position reserved for diplomats and/or traders whom the humans would have most often interacted with.
  • It could have been a simplified way of differentiating races of immortals . Just like it was common for a long time to call human races Black, White, Yellow, or Red, it may be that people extended this system to include the immortal races where the werewolves are grey, the elves are green, the dwarves are are brown, so on and so forth.

Whatever the reason, 200 years later when historians try to make out more information about these werewolves, they will turn to literary sources and read passages like, "... the grey ones came out of the forest, men who could take the form of wolves ..." To a historian who lacks the cultural context of a contemporary, such a passage would sound like a literal color, and not a title. Then said passage makes it into every child's history textbook, and within a single generation, almost everyone now believes that all werewolves were grey.

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    $\begingroup$ This is an urban legend. The term “Red men” seems to have originated with the Natives of what’s now the Southeastern US, particularly the Cherokee and Taensas, in the 1720s. A word for Native American in the Natchez, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Muskogee languages literally means “red person." This might have had its origins in a Cherokee tradition of having complementary red and white chiefs, with different roles.¨ Linnaeus also used the descriptors Red, White, Black and Yellow in 1740. $\endgroup$
    – Davislor
    May 14 at 17:52
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    $\begingroup$ The earliest genuine uses of “redskins” were apparently by Native American diplomats. In 1769, a nation in what’s now Illinois referred to themselves as “peaux Rouges” in a diplomatic note in French. The first recorded use in English of “redskins” (other than a probable forgery) was on August 22, 1812, by a chief of the Osage people, one of many Natives who had accepted the invitation of Lewis and Clark to meet President Madison. $\endgroup$
    – Davislor
    May 14 at 18:06
  • $\begingroup$ The Europeans who described Native Americans in this time period and gave Europe its vocabulary for them had met them and knew what they looked like. Those European writers most commonly described the other people’s skins as tawny. $\endgroup$
    – Davislor
    May 14 at 18:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Davislor That is great to know... also, it could just as easily be applied to werewolves as the mud thing. See revised answer. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    May 14 at 18:42
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    $\begingroup$ To be a little more specific about the history, some historians believe that the Cherokee who went to London in 1730, and described themselves as "Red" and the English as "White," understood the treaty in terms of their own cultural roles. They were presented gifts by people who called themselves “White” and were asked in exchange to fight the enemies of the King of England. Cherokee culture had red chiefs who were warriors, and white chiefs in a complementary role as peaceful civic leaders who provided for the needy. $\endgroup$
    – Davislor
    May 14 at 18:54
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An aged human form is weaker than the aged wolf form

In general werewolves used their wolf form sparingly, usually at night and if a human did see them they rarely lived to tell the tale. As they age, however, a werewolf may find their human form getting aches and pains, their senses dulling and their body tiring easily. Their wolf form may also deteriorate but not to the same degree and so by comparison the world always becomes so much clearer and moving so much easier. This means that whilst they're probably less useful to the pack when hunting, perhaps even a liability, it doesn't mean the transformation isn't still a thrilling change.

With this you're more likely to have older werewolves transforming to complete more basic tasks. Perhaps they've travelled into town in their human form and are now facing an arduous 2 hour walk back as an aging human or an exhilarating 20 minute run through the forest as a wolf. The difference may be enough that some transform and never turn back.

This means two things: firstly you'll have more older wolves transformed at any one time and secondly they're more likely to be out in the day to be spotted.

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No, that was a Sasquatch!

In addition to other great answers (being seen at night, werewolves been mistaken for wolves, werewolves converted from people with gray hair already, etc.), there's already a potential humanoid monster that has fur in the red-brown-black spectrum! And that's the sasquatch! (See images below). Both werewolves and sasquatches are large, furry, and scary forest dwellers that don't want to be spotted. Werewolves are all too happy to blame non-gray furred werewolf sightings on this elusive creature; he's quite good at hiding, which makes them hard to prove wrong. Additionally, since (per my understanding) sasquatches don't shapeshift into normal-looking humans, they can't really defend themselves, so werewolves have an easy time blaming them.

Artistic depiction of Sasquatch Hunt Jack Link's Sasquatch Costume

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  • $\begingroup$ One of the conditions stated in the questions was that there are red werewolves, and that they come in many hues. Easy to misread a question though. Nice pictures. Welcome to worldbuilding. $\endgroup$ May 15 at 0:03
  • $\begingroup$ While it's not an ideal answer to my question since werewolf lore predates sasquatch lore by quite a few centuries, the fact that werewolves in my setting are more likely to he mistaken for sasquatch than recognized as werewolves is an incredibly interesting point I hadn't considered. I'll have to bring that up! $\endgroup$ May 15 at 0:54
  • $\begingroup$ @ARogueAnt. Yeah, the whole crux of the idea was that the red werewolves can be mistaken for a sasquatch, allowing them (and other, non-gray werewolves) to fly under the radar! Thanks for the welcome though :) $\endgroup$
    – ESCE
    May 15 at 3:51
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The most influential culture believed it in the olden days.

Children born in Bethlehem at 0 BC would have been of a bronzen skin color. However when the most famous child of that region was introduced to the western countries the lionshare of artists and indigenous people there had only seen pink skincolors, so thats what their stories and depictions showed him to have: a pink skin color rather than bronze. This became so ingrained as a truth that even the countries where the child had been born started believing it.

Theres more: look into anything like vaccinations, climate change, moon landings, Bigfoot, Loch "free fiddy" Ness and other such ideas and you see that a simple misinformation campaign can work wonders in dividing the populace, even better is when the subject hasn't been seen or heard from for decades or centuries, which dilutes the real information quicker.

Your werewolves have started a campaign of misinformation about werewolves in an attempt to confuse the populace. This is so effective that if someone says "I say a werewolf and it was blond" that people will rather say "you saw a WHAT and it was WHAT?!? How much did you drink?!?". It wasnt so successful however that they could hide or obscure many recognizing traits from werewolves however. The Vampires were more successful, making people think its to do with coffins and counts.

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  • $\begingroup$ Why would the werewolves want to convince people that all werewolves were grey? Where would that get them? Vampires playing up the "coffins and counts" makes sense, because then humans seeing a halfway normal-looking person in a halfway normal-looking place would be less likely to think of them being a vampire. But why say werewolves are grey? $\endgroup$
    – A. B.
    May 15 at 11:12
  • $\begingroup$ @A.B. because as the question suggests, there are very few people with grey hair. Also as I mentioned the success rate differs, just because you attempt something does not mean you succeed. It is a global campaign with a probably not entirely unified factions and varying grasps in propaganda and misinformation, the level of success is not guaranteed. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    May 15 at 11:44
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, do you mean they'd try to put it about not just that werewolves were the same colour as normal wolves, but specifically that werewolves were grey and not all normal wolves were, so that if people saw an odd-coloured wolf they'd think it must be a normal wolf rather than a werewolf? That could work, I suppose. (Although most people seem to think all normal wolves are grey too, so the propaganda clearly didn't work entirely :-D ). $\endgroup$
    – A. B.
    May 15 at 11:57
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    $\begingroup$ @A.B. more in the sense of Little Pink Elephants existing. But if you saw a Little Pink Elephant and told anyone about it, no one would believe you. Since most Werewolves are not grey but the general consensus is that they are, you are telling a fantastical story (Werewolves!) With traits that we don't recognize (a BLOND werewolf?). That makes it less believable... even though its the truth. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    May 15 at 12:07
  • $\begingroup$ Haha, that's true. Vampires pretending to be more obviously weird than they are, so that real vampires will look "too normal to be vampires", is the obvious move. But if you have no chance of being mistaken for "normal", making the legends less weird than the truth, so that a description of a real werewolf would just sound silly, could work too! Crafty! $\endgroup$
    – A. B.
    May 16 at 1:47
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with the most powerful bloodline of werewolves sporting hair and fur of a deep crimson.

OK, so you're focussing on only part of the problem. Have you tried asking why there are no known humans with crimson hair? (Before the last few decades, of course.)

Apparently, the powerful werewolves realize that they are instantly recognizable, whether in human or wolf form, as wrong. They take pains to hide their existence from humans.

Or, perhaps, they dye their hair, and the dye color persists during the transformation into fur.

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Perception filtering:

While this touches on some of the other answers, I feel it is distinct in it's own right.

Your immortals are trying to hide from humans. human color-sensing cones are the target for the magical influence of immortals who don't want to be seen. These cones give feedback to the brain at odds with black-and-white sensing rods. So humans with cones might see the werewolf, and know there's something wrong with them, but they can't see the werewolf as a werewolf. partial color vision allows their perceptions to be altered partially. But any perception of the werewolf is driven by the color-blind rods, not the color-perceiving cones.

Many mammalian animals, the full color-blind, and people in the dark rely on rods for vision. So when it's dark, people see the werewolves for what they are. Or when your dog starts barking at someone for no apparent reason, it's because dogs are naturally partially color-blind.

The people who can see the werewolves in the day are at least partially color-blind. So they draw images of the werewolves in black and white (what they can see with rods, not cones). They don't see the color, lacking functional cones.

The fovea (the area of fine visual focus) is full of cones. So even when people can see the werewolves for what they are, it's fuzzy and insubstantial.

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