Deer are hoofed, artiodactyl mammals of family
Cervidae. They have bony, branching antlers,
which are shed and regrown annually. The
family contains sixteen genera and approximately
forty species, and inhabits the Americas, Europe,
Asia, and North Africa. Deer live in woods, prairies,
swamps, mountains, and tundra. Common
species are the white-tailed and mule deer in the
United States; wapiti in the United States, Canada,
Europe, and Asia; moose in North America and
Europe; reindeer in Russia, Finland, and Alaska;
and caribou in northern North America.
The four deer subfamilies are the Cervinae
(true deer), Moschinae (musk deer), Muntiacinae
(muntjacs), and Odocoileinae (hollow-toothed
deer). They are hunted worldwide for their meat,
hides, and antlers. Deer meat (venison) tastes
beeflike. Tanned deerhide makes soft leather.
Reindeer, which are domesticated in Scandinavia
and Russia, are sources of meat, leather, and milk,
and serve as draft animals.
Physical Characteristics of Deer
Deer have gray, brown, red, or yellow upper bodies with lighter colored bellies. Their stiff fur is smooth looking in the summer and longer and shaggier in cold weather. Deer shed fur in spring and fall, a process called molting. They range in size from seven feet at the shoulder and a ton in weight for moose, to one foot at the shoulder and a weight of around twenty pounds for the tiny pudu. All deer have lithe, compact bodies, short tails, large, narrow ears, long, slender legs, and paired hooves on each foot. Their eyes are large, placed on the sides of the head, and yield a wide visual range. Deer also have keen senses of smell and hearing. They run quite quickly to escape danger. Males of most species have antlers, as do female reindeer and caribou. Antlers are solid bone growths arising from the frontal bone. In moose, the largest deer, they reach widths of six feet and weigh nearly fifty pounds. Antlers are shed and regrown each year, arising from pedicles on the frontal bone. The pedicles and the growing antlers are covered with soft skin called velvet. Antlers grow rapidly. When the antlers have reached their maximum growth, bone deposition at the antler's base cuts off the velvet's blood supply. This makes the velvet dry up, and the itchiness of the dry velvet leads the deer to rub it off. The shape and complexity of branched antlers is species dependent. Antler shedding in late fall is due to bone resorption at the antler bases. This annoys deer and they rub their antlers against trees, weakening them and causing them to come off. Antlers are important protection for individual deer and their family groups. Males use antlers to fight other males and to protect their herds frompredators. The protective function may explain why, most often, it is the males who have horns. Horns of females are much smaller than those of males of a species. Deer are herbivorous, and their lower molars have ridges which enable them to grind vegetable foods. They are ruminants (cud chewers) and have four-chambered stomachs. Nearly all deer have facial glands in front of each eye. These make strongly scented musk, which is used to mark their territories.
Deer are solitary or live in small to large groups. Often males and females are solitary except when mating. Deer are polygamous, with males collecting harems and battling others for them. Deer can be gregarious at special times, when they live in herds ranging from extended families to thousands. In warm climates deer breed at any time, while in cold climates they breed from autumn to winter. Their gestation periods are between five and eleven months, depending on species. One or two young are born and are at first hidden, camouflaged by dappled body markings. Young deer mate at five to six years old. All deer eat twigs, leaves, bark, buds of bushes and saplings, and grasses or other plants. They are diurnal (active during daylight), and feed most at twilight. They are also ruminants, who chew and swallow food several times. Rumination helps deer get all nutrients and vitamins they can from their food. In many countries, especially the United States, deer have few natural predators. Many of their predators, such as wolves and mountain lions, have been driven to endangerment or extinction as a result of their perceived threat to livestock, and the deer have benefited by this. If they become too plentiful, deer overbrowse and die of starvation during winter. This is managed through adjusting the hunting season, based on population estimates made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Deer are one of the few wild animals that still provide a real contribution to the diet of humans in some parts of the United States, where some families rely on a deer or two in the freezer to provide their meat throughout the winter. Deerskin is also used for shoes, boots, and gloves, and antlers are made into buttons and other decorative items. Scandinavian and Russian Lapps and North Asian nomads use reindeer for food, clothing, and transportation. Caribou, a reindeer variant, are equally important to North America's Inuit. Deer were brought to New Zealand from Europe, and are currently raised on deer farms. Most commercial venison used in the United States is imported from New Zealand.
Family: Cervidae (deer)
Subfamilies: Cervinae (true deer), Moschinae (musk deer), Muntiacinae (muntjacs), Odocoileinae (hollow-toothed deer)
Geographical location: The Americas, Europe, Asia, and North Africa
Habitat: Forests, grasslands, deserts, tundra, swamps, mountains
Gestational period: Five to ten months
Life span: Eight to twenty years, depending on species
Special anatomy: Antlers, ruminant stomach
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