Deer are the ruminant mammals forming the family Cervidae. Species in the family include the white-tailed deer, mule deer (such as the black-tailed deer), elk, moose, red deer, reindeer (caribou), fallow deer, roe deer, pudú and chital. Male deer of all species (except the Chinese water deer) and female reindeer grow and shed new antlers each year. In this they differ from permanently horned animals, such as antelope, which are in the same order as deer and may bear a superficial resemblance to them.
With the exception of the Chinese water deer, which have tusks, all male deer have antlers. Sometimes a female has 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 bone. The deer rubs off the velvet, leaving dead bone which forms the hard antlers. After the mating season, the pedicle and the antler base are separated by a layer of softer tissue, and the antler falls off.
One way that many hunters are able to track main paths that the deer travel on is because of their "rubs". The deer rub trees to deposit scent from glands near the eye and forehead and physically mark territory.
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. The tines on the antlers create grooves that allow another male's antlers to lock into place. This allows the males to wrestle without risking injury to the face.
Antlers can be a sign of genetic quality. Males with larger antlers relative to body size tend to have increased resistance to pathogens and higher reproductive capacity. Necropsy research on wild deer that were killed and eaten by wolves shows that deer with asymmetric antlers are weakened by genetic defects and are less likely to escape being caught by predators.
Each species has its own characteristic antler structure – for example white-tailed deer antlers include a series of tines sprouting upward from a forward-curving main beam, while fallow deer and moose antlers are palmate, with a broad central portion. Mule deer and black-tailed deer, species within the same genus as the white-tailed deer, have bifurcated (or branched) antlers—that is, the main beam splits into two, each of which may split into two more. Young males of many deer, and the adults of some species, such as brocket deer and pudus, have antlers that are single spikes.
February 5th, 2016
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