A deer is a ruminant mammal belonging to the family Cervidae.
A number of broadly similar animals from related families within the
order Artiodactyla are often also called deer.
Depending on their species, male deer are called stags, harts, bucks or bulls, and females are called hinds, does or cows. Young deer are called fawns or calves. Hart, from Old English heorot ‘deer’, is a term for a stag, particularly a Red Deer stag past its fifth year. It is not commonly used, but Shakespeare makes several references, punning the sound alike "hart" and "heart" for example in Twelfth Night. "The White Hart" and "The Red Hart" are common English pub names, and the county Hertfordshire is named after them.
The history of the word deer is quite interesting in that it was
originally quite broad in meaning and came to be specialized. In
Middle English, der (O.E. dēor) meant a beast or animal of any kind.
This general sense gave way to the modern sense by the end of the
Middle English period, around 1500. The German word tier, the
cognate of English deer, still has the general sense of "animal."
The adjective of relation pertaining to deer is cervine.
Deer are widely distributed, and hunted, with indigenous representatives in all continents except Antarctica and Australia. Deer live in a variety of biomes ranging from tundra to the tropical rainforest. While often associated with forests, many deer are ecotone species that live in transitional areas between forests and thickets (for cover) and prairie and savanna (open space). The majority of large deer species inhabit temperate mixed deciduous forest, mountain mixed coniferous forest, tropical seasonal/dry forest, and savanna habitats around the world. Clearing open areas within forests to some extent may actually benefit deer populations by exposing the understory and allowing the types of grasses, weeds, and herbs to grow that deer like to eat. However, adequate forest or brush cover must still be provided for populations to grow and thrive.
Small species such as the brocket deer and pudus of Central and South America, and the muntjacs of Asia do occupy dense forests and are less often seen in open spaces. There are also several species of deer that are highly specialized and live almost exclusively in mountains, grasslands, swamps and "wet" savannas, riparian corridors surrounded by deserts. Some deer have a circumpolar distribution in both North America and Eurasia. Examples include the reindeer (caribou) that live in Arctic tundra and taiga (boreal forests) and moose that inhabit taiga and adjacent areas.
The highest concentration of large deer species in temperate North America lies in the Canadian Rocky Mountain and Columbia Mountain Regions between Alberta and British Columbia where all five North American deer species (White-tailed Deer, Mule deer, Caribou, Elk, and Moose) can be found. This is a region that boasts mountain slopes with moist coniferous forests and alpine meadows, and lowlands with a mosaic of cropland and deciduous parklands within vicinity of lakes and rivers. The Caribou live at higher altitudes in the subalpine meadows and alpine tundra areas. The White-tailed Deer have recently expanded their range within the foothills of the Canadian Rockies due to conversion of land to cropland and the clearing of coniferous forests allowing more deciduous vegetation to grow.
The highest concentration of large deer species in temperate Asia occurs in the mixed deciduous forests, mountain coniferous forests, and taiga bordering North Korea, Manchuria (Northeastern China), and the Ussuri Region (Russia). These are among some of the richest deciduous and coniferous forests in the world where one can find Siberian Roe Deer, Sika Deer, Caribou, Elk, and Moose. Just south of this region in China, one can find the unusual Pere David's Deer. Deer such as the Sika Deer, Thorold's Deer, Central Asian Red Deer, and Elk have historically been farmed for their antlers by Han Chinese, Turkic peoples, Tungusic peoples, Mongolians, and Koreans. Like the Lapps of Finland and Scandinavia, the Tungusic peoples, Mongolians, and Turkic peoples of Southern Siberia, Northern Mongolia, and the Ussuri Region have also taken to raising semi-domesticated herds of caribou.
The highest concentration of large deer species in the tropics occurs in Southern Asia and Southeast Asia in the Countries of India, Nepal, and at one time, Thailand. Northern India's Indo-Gangetic Plain Region and Nepal's Terai Region consist of tropical seasonal moist deciduous, dry deciduous forests, and both dry and wet savannas that are home to Chital, Hog Deer, Barasingha, Indian Sambar, and Indian Muntjac. Just slightly north of the Indo-Gangetic Plain is the Vale of Kashmir, home to the rare Kashmir Stag, a subspecies of Central Asian Red Deer. The Chao Praya River Valley of Thailand was once primarily tropical seasonal moist deciduous forest and wet savanna that hosted populations of Hog Deer, Schomburgk's Deer (now extinct), Eld's Deer, Indian Sambar, and Indian Muntjac. Today, both the Barasingha and Eld's Deer are endangered or rare. The Hog Deer populations in Thailand are also rare. Chital and Barasingha live in large herds, and Indian sambar may also be found in large groups. How all these deer can co-exist in one area is due to the fact that they prefer different types of vegetation for food. These deer also share their habitat with various herbivores such as Asian elephants, various antelope species (in India), and wild oxen.
Central and South America host various smaller brocket deer species, and Southeastern Asia hosts various smaller muntjac species. Unlike the larger deer species mentioned above, these deer species are rather solitary and tend to hide in dense cover and have lower population densities.
Australia has six introduced species of deer that have established sustainable wild populations from Acclimatization Society releases in the 19th Century. These are Fallow Deer, Red Deer, Sambar Deer, Hog Deer, Rusa deer, and Chital Deer. Red Deer introduced into New Zealand in 1851 from English and Scottish stock were domesticated in deer farms by the late 1960s and are common farm animals there now. Seven other species of deer were introduced into New Zealand but none are as widespread as Red Deer.
Deer differ from other ruminants in that they have antlers
instead of horns. Antlers are bony growths that develop each
year (usually in summer) and, in general, it is only male deer
that develop them (although there are exceptions). A young
buck's first pair of antlers grow from two tiny bumps on their
head that they have had from birth. The antlers grow wrapped in
a thick layer of velvet and remain that way for several months,
until the bone inside is hard; later the velvet is torn away
(not shed contrary to popular belief). The one way that many
hunters are able to track main paths that the deer travel on is
because of their "rubs". A rub is used to deposit scent from
glands near the eye and forehead and physically mark territory.
Deer also have a Tapetum lucidum which gives them sufficiently
good night vision. During the mating season, bucks use their
antlers to fight one another for the opportunity to attract
mates in a given herd. The two bucks circle each other, bend
back their legs, lower their heads, and charge.
A doe generally has one or two fawns at a time (triplets, while not unknown, are uncommon). The gestation period is anywhere up to ten months for the European roe deer. Most fawns are born with their fur covered with white spots, though they lose their spots once they get older (excluding the Fallow Deer who keeps its spots for life). In the first twenty minutes of a fawn's life, the fawn begins to take its first steps. Its mother licks it clean until it is almost free of scent, so predators will not find it. Its mother leaves often, and the fawn does not like to be left behind. Sometimes its mother must gently push it down with her foot. The fawn stays hidden in the grass for one week until it is strong enough to walk with its mother. The fawn and its mother stay together for about one year. A male usually never sees his mother again, but females sometimes come back with their own fawns and form small herds.
Deer generally have lithe, compact bodies and long, powerful legs suited for rugged woodland terrain. Deer are also excellent swimmers. Their lower cheek teeth have crescent ridges of enamel, which enable them to grind a wide variety of vegetation. Deer are ruminants or cud-chewers and have a four-chambered stomach. Nearly all deer have a facial gland in front of each eye. The gland contains a strongly scented pheromone, used to mark its home range. Bucks of a wide range of species open these glands wide when angry or excited. All deer have a liver without a gallbladder. The Chinese water deer is the only species that differs from others in that they have no antlers and bear upper canines developed into tusks.
Deer are selective feeders. They feed on leaves. They have small, unspecialized stomachs by herbivore standards, and high nutrition requirements. Rather than attempt to digest vast quantities of low-grade, fibrous food as, for example, sheep and cattle do, deer select easily digestible shoots, young leaves, fresh grasses, soft twigs, fruit, fungi, and lichens.
All male deer have antlers that are shed and re-grown each year from a structure called a pedicle. Sometimes a female will have a small stub. The only female deer with antlers are Reindeer (Caribou). Antlers grow as highly vascular spongy tissue covered in a skin called velvet. Before the beginning of a species' mating season, the antlers calcify under the velvet and become hard. The velvet is then torn away leaving hard bone antlers. After the mating season, the pedicle and the antler base are separated by a layer of tissue, and the antler falls off. Each species has a general antler growth pattern, e.g. White-tailed Deer tend to grow antlers out and forward with points arising from the top of the main beam of the antler. Mule deer, a species within the same genus as White-tailed deer, have similar antler growth except that the second point is usually pointy
For Wapiti and Red Deer, a stag having 14 points is an "imperial", and a stag having 12 points is a "royal". If the antlers deviate from the pattern of the species, the deer is considered a non-typical deer.
This Deer Page is Copyright The Animal Web Guide © 2004 - 2009 Chuck Ayoub