Deer are classified under Cervidae family and usually have various features including cloven-hoofed ungulates, short tails, and long legs while most of the male deer have antlers.
The deer family fairly big and consists of moose, elk, wapiti, and muntjacs. The Cervids family is the second most diverse family after the bovids (buffalo, sheep, goats, antelopes, bison, etc.). There exists some discrepancy about the cervid’s classification concerning the 50 species, with the University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web (ADW) stating there is no single well-supported taxonomic and phylogenetic history which has been proven.
Size and Description
There are different sizes of deer from very huge to very small, with the Southern Pudu according to the ARKive project being the smallest of all with a height of roughly 14 inches and a weight of approximately 20 pounds when fully matured.
The moose is the biggest in the deer family growing to about 6.5 feet from its hoof to shoulders when full grown and weighing roughly 1,800 pounds.
Apart from the Chinese water deer, all species of deer have antlers, and only male deer have the antlers apart from the caribou (reindeer). Both male and female deer caribou possess antlers.
Cervids are found across all the continents other than Antarctica and Australia. Furthermore, Africa is known to have one type of deer known as the Barbary red deer, unlike other continents according to ADW. In Argentina and Chile is where the Southern Pudu is native to whereas the white-tailed deer is common to South and North America. Deer occupy different types of the ecosystem; that is, rainforests, deciduous forests, wetlands, grasslands, mountains, and arid scrublands. Due to the continued encroachment of the deer territory by human civilization, deer can also comfortably live in urban settings.
Often deer are very social creatures which move around in groups known as herds usually led by a dominant male. However, some deer species have herds which are segregated by sex. In some cases, the female and male deer have separate herds, whereas in other instances a herd of male’s watches over a herd of females. According to ADW, some caribou herds have around 100,000 members.
Deer are most active during the day although the most active periods are during dusk and sunrise, spending all their days searching for food.
Deer are known to be herbivores that is they feed on vegetation only. Additionally, they mainly feed on leaves, small shrubs as well as grass, but in some cases forage in gardens and trash bins in search for food if the vegetation they need cannot be found.
Deer have one primary stomach along three other “false stomachs,” chewing their cud just like cows do to digest their food thoroughly.
When it comes to breeding some deer such as the European Roe deer are known to be monogamous, and the period which the deer breeds generally dependent on where the deer lives. Those deer living within the temperate regions usually breed during early winter or late autumn, while those residing around lower latitudes are known to breed from late spring into early summer. Additionally, deer living around the tropical climates usually mate at whenever they feel like, and this could be numerous times in per year.
Deer have a gestational period of 180 to 240 days but for the northern and southern white-tailed deer, the gestation period is typically about 193 to 205 days, according to Louisiana State University. Typically, the bigger the deer, the longer the gestation period. The young ones of a deer are known as fawns while some of the big deer babies are known as calves, with a mother giving birth to one to three young one at a time.
According to ADW, the color of deer varies from very light brown to dark, with fawns born with white spots to aid in camouflaging them from the many predators. Furthermore, the fawns start weaning after attaining two to five months of age. Deer do not mature fully until they reach a certain size, but the size they need to be varying from one deer species to another. The lifespan of deer is usually between 11 and 12 years; nevertheless, most of the deer generally die before long before attaining this age due to environmental factors as well as predators.
Research carried out by the International Union for Conservation of Nature has shown that numerous species of deer are presently endangered. The Calamian deer, hog deer, the Persian fallow deer, Bawean deer, and Anhui musk deer are some of the species that are in the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. Moreover, the Pere David’s deer can only be found in captivity and is extinct in the wild as stated by the IUCN.
All other deer species apart from the Chinese water deer shed their antlers. However, the Chinese deer uses its very long teeth to attract its mates.
The musk deer in some cases is included in Cervidae family, but belongs to a separate family, Moschidae which has one genus and four species that consists of the rare and threatened Kashmir musk deer. According to ADW, they are located in north-eastern and central Asia, and their main difference from a true deer being that they have vampire-like fangs instead of antlers. Usually, the males have long fangs which seem to belong on the Halloween spook and during the mating season, they use them to compete for females. Furthermore, the price of its meat on the black market goes for about $20,455 per pound according to the IUCN.