White-tailed Deer

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White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

White-tailed deer are the most common and widely distributed large mammal in North America. They range from the southern tip of the continent northward into Canada’s boreal forest. It can be found pretty much east of the Rockies, down through Mexico, Central America and into Northern South America.

The deer’s coat is a reddish-brown in the spring and summer and turns to a grey-brown throughout the fall and winter. The deer can be recognized by the characteristic white underside to its tail. The deer will raise its tail when it is alarmed to flag the other deer.

The white-tailed deer is highly variable in size, generally following Bergmann’s rule that the average size is larger further away from the Equator. North American male deer (also known as a buck or stag) usually weighs 60 to 130 kg (130 to 290 lb) but, in rare cases, bucks in excess of 159 kg (350 lb) have been recorded. Mature bucks over 400 pounds are recorded in the northernmost reaches of their native range, specifically, Minnesota and Ontario. There is considerable size and weight differences within a population and well as over the large number of subspecies.

Deer have dichromatic (two-color) vision with blue and yellow primaries; humans have trichromatic vision. Thus deer poorly distinguish the oranges and reds that stand out so well to humans. This makes it very convenient to use deer-hunter orange as a safety color on caps and clothing to avoid accidental shootings during hunting seasons. This information can also be used when taking White-Tailed Deer photographs.

Males re-grow their antlers every year. Length and branching of antlers is determined by nutrition, age, and genetics. Healthy deer in some areas that are well fed can have eight-point branching antlers as yearlings (one and a half years old). The number of points, the length or thickness of the antlers are a general indication of age but cannot be relied upon for positive aging. A better indication of age is the length of the snout and the color of the coat, with older deer tending to have longer snouts and grayer coats.

White-tailed deer are generalists and can adapt to a wide variety of habitats. The largest deer occur in the temperate regions of Canada and United States. The Northern white-tailed deer (borealis), Dakota white-tailed deer (dacotensis), and Northwest white-tailed deer (ochrourus) are some of the largest animals, with large antlers. The smallest deer occur in the Florida Keys and in partially wooded lowlands in the neotropics.

White-tailed deer populations have the potential for relatively quick growth when good food and habitat conditions exist. In Ontario, a female white-tailed deer will typically give birth to one or two fawns each year. At birth, fawns usually weigh between 2 and 4 kilograms (4-9 lbs.). Their coat is spotted for the first 3 – 4 months, which provides a natural camouflage and helps them blend in with the forest. This spotted coat is lost when their first winter coat comes in. Fawns are weaned at about 4 to 6 weeks, sometimes later. They will grow quickly over the summer months, reaching 25-40 kilograms (55-85 lbs.) by fall.

References: Wikipedia, Ministry of Natural Resources.