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The Encyclopedia of Deer by Dr.Leonard Lee Rue III

Deer

White Tail Deer

Scientific Name: Odocoileus virginianus
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Cervid
Genus: Odocoileus
Species: Virginianus

Deer - Introduction

Deer are very frequent visitors to yards and gardens wherever they live. In the United States there are only two (2) native species with several subspecies and a few introduced varieties as well. All of which are well known for snacking on homeowner gardens and landscaping. The most common species east of the Rocky Mountains is the White Tail Deer with the Mule Deer species taking up residence in the western states and Canada. Deer can become very familiar with humans and will not hesitate to make your yard a regular stop for feeding quickly destroying vegetable gardens and damaging trees and shrubs beyond recovery.

Deer Natural History

Deer are native to just about every corner of the world. As such there are many different species; 44 in all. Of the 44 species there are several more subspecies. Many of these have grown to become very specialized for their environment with some even existing only on islands. This page will focus mainly on the species that are most common in North America including the White Tail and Mule Deer species.

Deer Physical Appearance

Deer Appearance

The many varieties of deer range in size from less than 100 pounds for some White Tail species to upwards of 200 pounds for some male Mule Deer. Their coloring is most predictable with nearly all varieties displaying a mottled reddish, brown fur color in summer and a grey to bluish grey coloring in the winter.

The most striking physical feature of any deer is their antlers. These antlers, found only on Males, are made of bone and found on all but two (2) varieties of the animal. Antlers are covered with a layer of skin, called velvet, which eventually dies and is rubbed off by the animal during mating season. This rubbing may be one of your landscape issues as the deer will use trees and shrubs to help scrape the velvet from the antlers. Antlers themselves begin growing in the spring, are used during mating season for fighting and scent marking, and then actually fall off only to begin growing again the following winter. There are some species of deer that do not have antlers, and in these species you will find enlarged upper teeth. These include Musk Deer and Chinese River Deer species.

Antlers vary in size and structure between the species as well. Overall, Mule deer have thicker antlers than White Tail deer. The points or tines of the White Tail deer antlers derive from the two (2) main beams. Mule deer have what are known as bifurcated antlers. Where the two (2) main beams branch into two (2) smaller beams, these then branch into two (2) even smaller beams.

The points on the antlers increase in number through about the sixth year of life for the bucks.

Deer Behavior

Most deer species live in herds. The size of these herds will vary from three (3) or four (4) to 15 to 20 animals. Male deer are polygamous with the herds normally led by one (1) male with several females that he mates.

Communication within the species is often completed via scents. Deer have glands on their feet, legs and faces. Deer will rub these glands on vegetation to mark their territory and to let females know that they are ready for mating.

Deer breed in the fall and give birth in the spring and early summer. Gestational periods range from 120 to 200 days to only one (1) baby or “fawn”. The fawns walk almost immediately atop four (4) wobbly legs.

Deer Benefits & Detriments to Humans and the Ecosystem

Deer have been known to cause some problems which shouldn’t be surprising given that an animal that is so prevalent in the human landscape. For many of us driving in rural areas and sometimes not so rural areas we have come quite familiar with the deer crossing signs along roadways. Deer and car collisions are quite common and more often than not cause a substantial hit to your pocketbook. In fact damage to cars from these collisions has been estimated to be in the millions each year!

Deer can also assist in spreading disease to both humans and animals. They have been known to transmit and contract hoof and mouth disease from livestock animals which can cost farmers thousands of dollars. The spread of Lyme disease is also helped along by deer and humans living in close quarters.

Further problems are related to Deer often hosting ticks in their fur that carry the disease and may drop one (1) or two (2) off as they pass through your property. Ticks that bite humans can infect them with this very debilitating disease.

Benefits of deer include the economic boost given to states that have a stake in deer hunting. Deer are hunted for both sports and food and bring in a lot of recreation dollars to counties and states with a well managed deer population.

Deer are also an important prey animal for the larger carnivores of the western states including mountain lions.

The shedding of the antlers provides a very important source of calcium for many animals including mice, coyotes, bison and porcupines. But, perhaps the least spoke of benefit is the enjoyment provided to many people who see the animals in the wild. In fact, parks and other natural areas often become sought after spots to watch for wildlife include the large hoofed animal, the Deer.

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