Big game species of the Mid-West
- White-tailed Deer -
The white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), also known as the Virginia
deer, is a medium-sized deer found throughout most of the continental
United States, southern Canada, Mexico, Central America and northern portions
of South America as far south as Peru. The species is most common east
of the American cordillera, and is absent from much of the western United
States, including Nevada, Utah and California (though its close relatives,
the mule deer and black-tailed deer, can be found there). It does, however,
survive in aspen parklands and deciduous river bottomlands within the
Central and Northern Great Plains, and in mixed deciduous riparian corridors,
river valley bottomlands, and lower foothills of the Northern Rocky Mountain
Regions from Wyoming to Southeastern British Columbia. The conversion
of land adjacent to the Northern Rocky Mountains into agriculture use
and partial clear-cutting of coniferous trees (resulting in widespread
deciduous vegetation) is in favor of white-tailed deer in this region.
The westernmost population, the Columbian white-tailed deer once was widespread
in the mixed forests along the Willamette River (Willamette Valley Forests
Ecoregion) and Cowlitz River Valleys of Western Oregon and Southwestern
Washington (endangered). There are also populations of Arizona (coues)
and Carmen Mountains (carminis) white-tailed deer that inhabit the mountain
mixed deciduous/pine forests of Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas extending
southwards into Mexico. As a result of introductions, white-tailed deer
are found also in localised areas of northern Europe such as Finland.
White-tailed deer are generalists and can adapt to a wide variety of habitats.
Although most often thought of as forest animals depending on relatively
small openings and edges, white-tailed deer can equally adapt themselves
to life in more open savanna and even sage communities as in Texas and
in the Venezuelan llanos region. These savanna adapted deer have relatively
large antlers in proportion to their body size and large tails. Also,
there is a noticeable difference in size between male and female deer
of the savannas.
Male white-tail from Kansas
The deer can be recognised by the characteristic white underside to
its tail, which it shows as a signal of alarm by raising the tail during
escape. The male (also known as a buck) usually weighs from 130 to 220
pounds (60 to 100 kg) but, in rare cases, animals in excess of 350 pounds
(160 kg) have been recorded. The female (doe) usually weighs from 90 to
130 pounds (40 to 60 kg), but some can weigh as much as 165 to 175 pounds
(75 or 80 kg). The deer's coat is a reddish-brown in the spring and summer
and turns to a grey-brown throughout the fall and winter. Males one year
of age or older have antlers. Antlers begin to grow in early spring, covered
with a highly vascularised tissue known as velvet. Bucks either have a
typical or non-typical antler arrangement. Typical is when the antlers
are symmetrical on both sides and the points grow straight up off the
main beam. Non-typical is usually when the antlers are asymmetrical and
the points are going in any direction off the main beam. A buck's inside
spread can be any were from 3-25 inches (8-64 cm). Bucks shed their antlers
when all females have been bred, Which can range from late December to
February. Females enter estrus, colloquially called the rut, in the fall,
normally in late October or early November, triggered mainly by declining
photoperiod. Sexual maturation of females depends on population density.
Females can mature in their first year, although this is unusual and would
occur only at very low population levels. Most females mature at one or,
sometimes, two years of age. Males compete for the opportunity of breeding
females. Sparring among males determines a dominance hierarchy. Bucks
will attempt to copulate with as many females as possible, losing physical
condition since they barely eat or rest during the rut. The general geographical
trend is for the rut to be shorter in duration at increased latitude.
Females give birth to one, two or even possibly three spotted young, known
as fawns in mid to late spring, generally in May or June. Fawns lose their
spots during the first summer and will weigh from 44 to 77 pounds (20
to 35 kg) by the first winter. Male fawns tend to be slightly larger and
heavier than females.
Range and population
The species is the state animal of Arkansas, Illinois, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, South Carolina, and Wisconsin, as well as the provincial animal of Saskatchewan. The profile of a White-tailed deer buck caps the Vermont coat-of-arms and can be seen in the Flag of Vermont and in stained glass at the Vermont State House. Also, the logo of the Milwaukee Bucks of the NBA features a front face view of a white-tail buck. Texas is home to more white-tailed deer than any other U.S. state or Canadian province, with an estimated population over four million. High populations of white-tailed deer occur in the Edwards Plateau of Central Texas. Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, and Pennsylvania also boast high deer densities.
White-tailed deer were introduced to Finland in 1935. The introduction
was successful, and the deer have recently begun spreading through northern
Scandinavia and southern Karelia, competing with, and sometimes displacing,
native fauna. The current population of some 30,000 deer originate from
four animals provided by Finnish Americans from Minnesota.
Until recently, some taxonomists have attempted to separate white-tailed
deer into a host of subspecies, based largely on morphological differences.
Genetic studies, however, suggest that there are, fewer subspecies within
the animal's range as compared to the 30 to 40 subspecies that some scientists
described in the last century. The Florida Key deer, O. virginianus clavium,
and the Columbian white-tailed deer, O. virginianus leucurus are both
listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The dominant
subspecies across the deer's range is the Virginia white-tail, O. virginianus
virginianus which is also the type species for the Odocoileus genus. White-tailed
deer have tremendous genetic variation and are adaptable to several environments.
Several local deer populations, especially in the Appalachian Mountains
and Piedmont Regions of Eastern United States are descended from white-tailed
deer transplanted from other areas. Some of these deer may have been from
northern mixed forests in the Great Lakes Region, or from more open savannas
and riparian bottomlands in the midwest and Texas, yet are also quite
at home in the Appalachian Mountains and Piedmont Regions. These deer
over time have intermixed with the local indigenous deer populations.
White-tail buck (male)
Central and South America have a complex number of white-tailed deer
subspecies that range from Southern Mexico as far south as Peru. This
list of subspecies of deer is more exhaustive than the North American
list of subspecies and is also questionable, but populations are difficult
to study due to over-hunting in many parts and lack of protection. Some
areas no longer carry deer, so it is difficult to assess the genetic difference
of these animals. Central American white-tailed deer prefer tropical dry
deciduous forests, seasonal mixed deciduous forests, and savanna habitats
over dense Rain forests and cloud forests.
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