Deer at a Glance
Deer are the graceful creatures that roam the countrysides, forests and the wilds across most of America, Asia, Europe and to a lesser degree Africa. Much unlike the various types of bear, they’re considered as graceful, dignified and timid animals but are also thought of as food by predators and people alike.
In general; deer all share a similar body structure, are quadrupedal, have hoofs and in the majority of species the males have antlers, but this is not a strict rule. They follow a similar evolutionary path as other hoofed animals; being more closely related to animals such as giraffes, boars, camels, and antelope in a taxonomic group called Artiodactyla which all share a similar hoof structure of having an even amount of toes on each foot.
They often display sexual dimorphism which means there is a significant physical difference between males and females; with males tending to be larger. This can vary between species, with some the dimorphism is not as pronounced. Additionally, it’s worth knowing that male deer are referred to as bucks, stags or bulls, females doe’s, hinds or sometimes cows and the young are typically called fauns.
A particularly interesting fact about deer is that they’re antlers are composed of the fastest growing biological tissue known. They pretty much owe this to the velvet covering as it acts to provide a blood supply, allowing the antlers to be supplemented with nutrients.
Deer are an animal with many different species that all belong to the taxonomic family Cervidae which is then broken down further into two smaller groups called subfamilies; Old World Deer (Cervinae) and New World Deer (Capreolinae). These two groups are distinguished from each other and take separate evolutionary paths which are reflected by the genetics and characteristics and origins of the species contained within.
Depending on the habitats you find them; deer are in the vast majority of cases herbivores, however, there are examples of deer that have deliberately selected and ingested meat. Red Deer on the island of Rum which is found on the coast of Scotland have been seen seeking out the chicks of a bird called the Manx shearwater which boosts the calcium in their diet.
With that unexpected horror story out of the way, the vast majority of deer are described as browsers which unlike grazers are more selective of the plants they eat. Deer prefer shrubs, fungi, shoots, leaves,
All deer have digestive systems that are specific to around 200 species of herbivorous grazers and browsers such as cows, sheep, antelopes, and giraffes. They typically have a stomach with four chambers, one of which contains specialized symbiotic bacteria which ferment the tough foliage and grasses that most animals cannot draw enough nutrition from.
This is a highly beneficial adaptation called rumination, as it allows these creatures to take advantage of a food source with less competition in their particular environmental niches.
Old World Deer – Cervinae
There are 10 genera that exist today within the Cervinae subfamily with three more that are extinct. They are distinct from new world deer due to the bone structure of their metacarpal bones; Cervinae being described as plesiometacarpal as opposed to Capreolinae which are telemetecarpal.
Fallow deer (Genus: Dama, Species: dama)
Fallow deer are named so as a referral to their coloration, fallow being a light brown. They originate in Eurasia and are native and prevalent throughout Europe to be later introduced to various other locations around the world.
There is a variation between fallow deer and the colors they can sport with the most common being a chestnut brown and a white mottle. Menil fallow deer can have more pronounced spots than common during the summer, melanistic is black all year round and the rarest fallow deer of all is cream white.
Fallow deer are fast runners and can go up to 30mph to escape threats and predators, but this is more of a sprint than an endurance run as fallow deer tend to lack the muscle and endurance that their relatives possess. As they tend to live in wooded areas, it’s more of a tactical retreat into the cover of foliage rather than a race across an open field.
Fallow Deer Quick Characteristics
- Male Length and Weight: 86-94cm, 46-94Kg
- Female Length and Weight: 73-91cm, 35-56Kg
- Variable coat colors which can change depending on season
Red Deer (Genus: Cervus, Species: elaphus)
Red deer are again, another species named based on the color of their fur. They are the fourth largest deer species that currently exist and are found throughout Europe, Eurasia and parts of Asia, the largest being found in the Carpathian mountains. The subspecies of red deer; the Barbary deer are also the only deer species to be found in Africa and are only found in North Africa around the Atlas Mountains.
There are in total 10 subspecies of red deer, each varying slightly in coloration, physiology and geography and so is quite a diverse group but not so diverse that you wouldn’t know a red deer if you knew how to identify them.
Their coat is usually reddish brown in color, depending on subspecies, location and season nit the coat grows thicker in preparation for the winter climate in all subspecies. European red deer, for example, are reddish brown in color during spring and summer but will grow a thicker darker coat and manes during fall and winter.
Red Deer Quick Facts
- Male Length and Weight: 175-250cm, 160-240Kg
- Female Length and Weight: 160-210cm, 120-170 kg
- Males can have manes during fall
Elk (Genus: Cervus, Species: anadensis)
Once believed to be a subspecies of the European red deer, the elk or sometimes referred to as the wapiti has a number of subspecies of its own. There are generally chestnut or light brown in color with a slight red tinge.
Like most der species, Elk males are the ones with the antlers which can be covered by a specialized skin when growing called velvet. The antler sizes of elk can vary greatly between subspecies with the North American and Siberian elk having the largest.
The velvet from the antlers has been collected and used in parts of Asia as an alternative or traditional medicine. It is believed that the antler velvet contains regenerative and aphrodisiac properties. However, elk are susceptible to and can transmit chronic wasting disease to humans and farm animals as well as the antler velvet containing a prion that can result in transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, a lot for risk for proofless benefits.
Also similar to many deer species, elk tend to live in forests and forest fringes browsing for shrubs, foliage and particularly tree bark. They migrate to a higher altitude during spring but will follow the winter climate back down to the forests when it starts to get snowier and colder during fall.
Elk Quick Facts
- Male Length and Weight: Average 245cm, 320-331Kg
- Female Length and Weight: Average 130cm, 225-241Kg
- Farmed for meat, hides and antler velvet
- Elk meat is leaner and contain more protein than beef, chicken, and pork
- Elk can be used in British English to refer to most large deer
New World Deer – Capreolinae
Moose (Genus: Alces, Species: alces)
Moose are most defiantly the largest species of deer in current existence smaller only than the extinct Irish elk. You are most likely to find moose in the wintery, northern boreal forests of the world in North America, Canada, Europe and Eurasia.
Moose are typically dark brown in color and have two coats of fur. One coat is a woolly undercoat and the top coat are guard hairs which are hollow and provide extra insulation and also helps them to swim if they need to.
Moose have quite a few subspecies which mostly just reflect their geographical location but there can be some minor aesthetic differences; such as Eurasian moose having white fur on the legs.
Moose Quick Facts
- Male Length and Weight: 240-310cm, 380-700Kg
- Female Length and Weight: 240-310cm, 200-490Kg
- Unfortunately involved in high number of vehicle collisions
- Can be aggressive towards humans and especially their pet dogs
Reindeer (Genus: Rangifer, Species: tarandus)
The oh-so-famous deer responsible for driving Santa’s sleigh every year to bring gifts to good children, reindeer are also known as caribou. They are a particularly unique looking deer in their own right typically with a dark grey coat and white underside.
However color cans till vary given that there are many subspecies, and this will be due to adaptations to the environments they inhabit which are usually boreal forests and even subpolar forests.
Reindeer originally meant “horned animal” in Norse and was applied to most similar animals but as over time we have developed a better understanding of phylogeny and evolution, this particular species of deer have held the name.
Reindeer Quick Facts
- Male Length and Weight: 180-214cm, 159-182Kg
- Female Length and Weight: 162-205cm, 80-120Kg
- They are the only deer species in which females have antlers too
- Reindeer knees make a clicking sound; a communicative adaptation
- Are highly important to subarctic communities who domesticate them
White-Tailed Deer (Genus: Odocoileus, Species: virginianus)
White-tails, also known as Virginia deer is a common deer in North America, Canada, Mexico and also have large populations in Central and South America and are also found to a lesser degree around Europe. Since their introduction into South America, they have become the most widely dispersed species of deer.
They are distinguished from other deer for their pronounced white fur on the underside of the tail which they flick up to warn other deer of danger. They have a reddish brown coat during the spring and summer which changed to a more grey hue in fall and winter.
This species is favorited by hunters who target these deer for their skin, antlers, and meat. Since this species is so widespread and resilient, the hunting of this deer is expected on certain seasons to ensure their numbers do not become an ecological threat.
White-Tailed Deer Quick Facts
- Male Length and Height: Average 95-220cm, 45Kg
- Female Length and Weight: 95-220cm, 40-90Kg
- The average size decreases the closer to the equator
- Very Adaptable
- Can damage ecosystems through high populations
- The Disney character Bambi is a white-tail