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white-tailed deer

Odocoileus virginianus

What do they look like?

White-tailed deer have different colors depending on the season and their location. Usually they have greyish fur in winter and reddish-brown fur in summer. They have white patches of fur on their face and lower legs. The tail is brownish-red above and white below. When startled the deer lift this tail as they bound away, making the white patch prominent. Males have antlers that begin growing in April or May with a layer of velvety fur on them. In August and September the antlers shed this velvety covering for the mating season. The antlers fall off in January and are re-grown the next year. With each year of age a male will grow larger antlers with more points.

  • Range mass
    57.0 to 137.0 kg
    125.55 to 301.76 lb
  • Range length
    160.0 to 220.0 cm
    62.99 to 86.61 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    123.447 W
    AnAge

Where do they live?

White-tailed deer are native to both the Nearctic and Neotropical regions. They inhabit most of southern Canada and all of the mainland United States except portions of the west central states to the California coast. Their range extends throughout Central America to Bolivia.

What kind of habitat do they need?

White-tailed deer are able to survive in a variety of land habitats, from the forests of northern Maine to the swamps of Florida. They also inhabit farmlands, brushy areas, and the cactus and thornbrush deserts of southern Texas and Mexico. White-tailed deer prefer forest edges that are close to farmlands, old fields, and brushland. These kinds of habitats are commonly created by humans by forest cutting and clearing and through agricultural practices. As a result white-tailed deer do well near human habitations.

How do they reproduce?

Most white-tailed deer mate in their second year, though some females occasionally mate as young as seven months. Mating occurs between October and December and females are pregnant for 6 and 1/2 months. In her first pregnancy, a female will usually only have one baby (fawn), but after that she may give birth to 2 or 3. Fawns are able to walk at birth. They are nursed several times a day until they are 8 weeks old, after which they begin to add vegetation to their diet. Fawns are weaned by 10 weeks old.

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    White-tailed deer breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs from October to December, fawns are born in the spring.
  • Range number of offspring
    1.0 to 3.0
  • Average number of offspring
    2
    AnAge
  • Average gestation period
    6.5 months
  • Average gestation period
    198 days
    AnAge
  • Range weaning age
    8.0 to 10.0 weeks
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2.0 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    309 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2.0 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    417 days
    AnAge

White-tailed females are very protective of their babies. When looking for food, females leave their offspring in a hiding place for about four hours at a time. While waiting for their mother to return, fawns lay flat on the ground with their necks outstretched, well camouflaged against the forest floor. Fawns begin to follow their mother on her foraging trips once they are about 4 weeks old and are fully ruminant at two months old. White-tailed deer fawns are nursed for 8 to 10 weeks before they are weaned. Young males leave their mother after one year but young females often stay with their mother for two years.

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • protecting
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents

How long do they live?

Most white-tailed deer live about 2 to 3 years. Maximum life span in the wild is 20 years but few live past 10 years old.

How do they behave?

White-tailed deer are very nervous and shy; they wave their tails from side to side when they are startled and fleeing. They are extremely agile and may bound at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. White-tailed deer are also good swimmers and often enter large streams and lakes to escape predators or insects or to visit islands.

White-tailed deer often live in either matriarchal social groups or in male groups made up of a dominant male and occasionally first-year males (Smith, 1991). Females and their fawns may graze together in herds of up to hundreds of individuals. In September, males begin to establish dominance hierarchies so that they can mate. They will fight each other to have the right to mate with certain females. White-tailed deer are not territorial but do have well-defined home ranges.

How do they communicate with each other?

White-tailed deer have scent glands between the two parts of the hoof on all four feet, outside of each hind leg, and on the inside of each hind leg. Scent from these glands is used to communicate with other deer and secretions become especially strong during the mating season.

White-tailed deer produce several types of vocalizations such as grunts, wheezes, and bleats. These vocalizations, along with other sounds and postures, are used for communication (Smith, 1991). Injured deer utter a startlingly loud "blatt" or bawl. Whistles or snorts of disturbed white-tailed deer are the most commonly heard sounds.

What do they eat?

White-tailed deer feed on a variety of vegetation, depending on what is available in their habitat. In eastern forests, buds and twigs of certain trees and shrubs are eaten. In desert areas, certain cacti and other plants are eaten. Evergreen trees are eaten in the winter when other sources of food are not available. White-tailed deer feed mainly from before dawn until several hours after, and again from late afternoon until dusk.

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

White-tailed deer have good eyesight and acute hearing, but depend mainly on their sense of smell to detect danger and their ability to run and bound quickly through dense vegetation to escape danger. White-tailed deer are preyed on by large predators such as humans, wolves, mountain lions, bears, jaguars, and coyotes.

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

White-tailed deer can greatly influence the composition of plant communities through their grazing, especially where they are abundant. In severe winters white-tailed deer can be responsible for girdling and killing large numbers of trees. White-tailed deer are also important prey animals for a number of large predators.

Do they cause problems?

White-tailed deer will eat and destroy crops, vegetable gardens and fruit trees if they come into contact with them. When their numbers become too high, white-tailed deer can cause serious damage to forest vegetation because there are so many deer eating the plants. They are also involved in accidents with cars, often resulting in serious injury to the human occupants of the vehicles.

How do they interact with us?

White-tailed deer are commonly hunted for meat and sport. Early settlers and Native Americans also used deer hides to make buckskin leather. White-tailed heads are also commonly mounted on the walls of lodges and other places of outdoor recreation.

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • food

Are they endangered?

White-tailed deer are common throughout their habitats. Exact counts of their numbers have not been made, but there are probably somewhere between 8 and 15 million on this continent. Although they were in danger of extinction at the turn of they century due to overhunting, they have recently reached their highest numbers.

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (author, editor), Animal Diversity Web, (author).

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends.

chaparral

mid-altitude coastal areas with mild, rainy winters and long, dry summers. Dominant plant types are dense, evergreen shrubs.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates

endothermic

animals that generate their own body heat through metabolic processes.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

pheromones

chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Climbing plants are also abundant. There is plenty of moisture and rain, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

swamp

a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born

References

Banfield, A.W.F. 1974. The Mammals of Canada. University of Toronto Press, Toronto.

Darymple, B.W. 1985. North American Big-Game Animals. Outdoor Life Books, New York.

Nowak, R.M. and J.L Paradiso. 1983. Walker's Mammals of the World. 4th edition. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.

Geist, V. 1979. Hoofed mammals. In: Wild Animals of North America. National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C.

"White-tail World.Com" (On-line). Accessed May, 2001 at http://www.kerrlake.com/deer/index.htm.

Smith, P. 1991. Odocoileus virginianus. Mammalian Species, 388: 1-13.

 
University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Dewey, T. and . 2003. "Odocoileus virginianus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 23, 2014 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Odocoileus_virginianus/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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