Thursday, September 25, 2014

100 Species to Know by Sight - #2 White-tailed Deer

The second species in my list of 100 species every kid (and adult) in Mid-Michigan should be able to identify by sight is the White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus).

A White-tailed doe with her reddish-brown summer fur

If you live east of the Mississippi River there is really no mistaking this species for any other animal - it is the only deer species found over much of its range.  Michigan does have Elk and Moose, but they really can't be confused for White-tailed Deer. 

Adult White-tailed Deer will stand 3 to 4 feet tall at the shoulder and be up to 7 feet long.  They are covered with either reddish-brown (summer) or grayish-brown (winter) fur.  Their winter coat is longer and coarser than their Summer coat.  For the first few months of their lives, fawns' coats will be speckled with white spots; as they grow their winter coat this spotting disappears. 

A pair of fawns - note the spotted coat

Male White-tailed Deer (bucks) typically have a pair of hard antlers growing from their brows.  Antlers are not horns.  Horns are a permanent growth with a hard bone core and an outer sheath made of keratin.  Antlers are also made of bone, but without an outer keratin sheath.  White-tailed Deer bucks shed their antlers every fall and regrow a new pair each summer.  Initially, the antler is soft and covered with velvet.  Over the coarse of the summer the antler hardens until it can be used as a weapon in contests of dominance with other bucks.  Rarely, a White-tailed doe (female) will grow antlers.

A young White-tailed buck with antlers in velvet

Skull of a seven-point buck

White-tailed Deer are very adaptable.  They like fragmented habitats with lots of edges - they adapt really well to habitats changed by human activity.  There are (probably) more White-tailed Deer in North America today than before Europeans arrived here.  Look for White-tailed Deer in almost any habitat type: farm fields, woodlands, wetlands, grasslands, parks, orchards, etc..

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