Deer is a very familiar species to us. Oftentimes, we see this shy animal in science-oriented shows being the prey of some of the most dangerous animals in the world. Though they respond quickly to danger, the strength and speed of their enemies are unmatched.
Many have thought that because deer are always at the bottom part of the food chain, they are low in population. As a matter of fact, deer are very far from the brink of extinction. Deer are usually found in North America and Mexico.
In total, there are 6 species of true deer and 58 subspecies of deer in North America. What are these 6 species?
1. Odocoileus Virginianus (White-tailed Deer)
The white-tailed deer is the most common deer and is native to North America. Texas is home to many white-tailed deer, with around four million deer living in groups. Because of recent land conversion to agriculture, these deer have spread to Mexico and east of the Rocky Mountains.
Because white-tailed deer eat mostly plants, agricultural areas attract them close to humans. This deer is also called the “Virginian deer”. Obviously, “white-tailed” was named after the distinctive white underside of the tail. The Virginian deer also has a unique way of defending itself against potential predators.
Once they raise their tail and show the white underside, it means that the deer warns the predator to stop attacking as they have been spotted already. This species of deer also changes its coat depending on the season. In spring, the deer change to reddish brown and grey-brown during winter.
In that way, the chances of them surviving in the wild increase. With their colors, they can blend well into their environment, in which case they will be challenging to spot.
The Virginian deer are considered “short-day” breeders. During the fall, their breeding season starts as the decline in the length of the day means higher production of melatonin in the bodies of the Virginian deer. This causes hormonal events to heat up the reproductive organs of the male and female white-tailed.
Expert Tip: Male and female deer are recognizable as male deer grow antlers during the mating season. This deer has the ability to come into heat multiple times during the breeding season, which is why their species is more likely to survive.
A female white-tailed deer can have one to three young. Virginian deer can live up to 6 years. Females live longer than males.
2. Odocoileus Memionus (Mule Deer)
Mule deer are undeniably one of the most adorable species of deer in North America. The mule deer’s ears, which are three-quarters the length of their faces, are its distinguishing feature, and it has also trademarked its name. They have a light grey face and a black spot on their forehead.
Their tails are white with a black tip, unlike the Virginian deer, whose underside of the tail is only the white part. This species of deer can only be found on North America’s west coast, in the western Great Plains, in the United States southwest, and in the Rocky Mountains.
Mule deer usually reside in arid, rocky environments and fields where plants are at their early stage of growth since young plants are more nutritious than matured ones. Mule deer are considered “picky eaters”. They do not feed on grass that is of low quality.
Instead, they only feed on herbaceous plants or some parts of the plants, such as the leaves and the twigs. With that, it can be said that cattle are easier to sustain than Mule Deer, which have a specific diet.
Bucks (male deer) fight each other using their antlers during the mating season until one back down. The victor of the battle then has the right to mate with the female. He attracts female mule deer and protects them from other bucks, usually younger ones, from getting their attention.
A female mule can be considered sexually mature when it reaches the age of 18 months. When it comes to the bucks, it will take 3 to 4 years before they can participate in battles for mating.
3. Rangifer Tarandus (Caribou)
Arguably the most famous species of deer, the caribou is indigenous to North America. Both female and male caribou can grow antlers, unlike other species of deer. Apart from that, caribou and reindeer are used interchangeably. As a matter of fact, reindeer and caribou are the same species of deer.
They only vary from the place they originated. Reindeer are from Northern Europe and Asia, while caribou are from North America. Reindeer can be domesticated or wild, whereas Caribou are migratory and live in the wild. They often get referred to as those who pull Santa’s sleigh during Christmas. This explains why they are extremely popular.
Herds of caribou make one of the largest migrations in the world. Caribous head north to travel for as far as more than six hundred kilometers in search of ground where they can feed on grasses and plants of the tundra. Caribous also give birth during this period.
During the first snow, the herds will turn back to the south to search for sheltered climes where they can spend the entire winter. Female caribous, also known as cows, can only have one young per year. Unfortunately, this species is only one step below endangered status.
Their migration is seen to be one of the factors why the specie may decrease in population. The changes in the environment and landscape during their travel can be stressful. They are also becoming more susceptible to diseases as climate change worsens.
4. Alces Alces (Moose)
Standing at about seven to ten feet from the hoof to shoulder, moose are undoubtedly the tallest species of deer native to North America. Moose can also be found in parts of the U.S, Asia, Europe, and Canada. They are characterized by a longer face than the other species of deer.
They have muzzles that hang over their chins, and a part of the skin hangs under the throat. They are muscular creatures and have large bones. Contrary to the misconception that they are slow and clumsy, moose can actually run. Their body structure appears to be awkward, as the front pair of legs appear to be longer than the back pairs.
This, however, is tactical, especially when clearing debris and snow while traveling slowly. Despite having poor eyesight, moose can hear very well, and their sense of smell is exceptional. They are also great swimmers. A typical young moose can learn how to swim in just a few weeks after birth.
Not only that, they can swim at approximately six miles per hour. Because of their strength and size, they are the tallest mammals in North America. They also feed on various aquatic and terrestrial plants. When it comes to body sizes, males are often larger than females, with which their weight ranges from 1200 to 1600.
Females can grow larger, but their weight typically ranges from 800 to 1200. They are also considered antisocial animals. Although they live in a herd, moose appear to be alone at a distance from their herd. Males make herds of females during the breeding season, called “harem herds”.
Just like any other species of deer, males typically fight for the right to mate with a female moose. They are very peaceful in their natural habitat. However, when they sense a threat or any disturbance, they become very territorial and will do anything to defend their place.
5. Mazama Gouazoubira (Brocket Deer)
The word “brocket” means a stag in its second year that has not yet developed its antlers. This perfectly describes their distinct features, such as small body size and antlers. The brocket deer has the lowest population of deer in North America.
This species can be found in the Yucatan Peninsula. They range from medium to small in size. They are nocturnal, so they feed at night and are rarely observed during daylight. They are frugivorous mammals. Their diet mostly consists of eating fruits with soft flesh.
They are also grazers and browsers, so they also feed on roots, plants, flowers, leaves, and buds depending on the season. They are also a big help to the ecosystem as they disperse seeds from different trees and shrubs after consumption.
They are loners, but when a brocket deer finds its pair, they are very intimate with each other, so they find a territory to stay and mark them using strong scents such as feces, urine, or even rubbing their forehead to the surface. They also search for places near vegetation where they can hide from predators and have their diet all in one.
They also prefer to live in very dry areas and thorny scrubs. Their colors may vary from greyish brown to reddish brown. Brocket deer are also taking advantage of their color to blend in with the environment so they cannot be easily spotted. Since they only have simple antlers, the average size ranges from only 70 to 100 millimeters.
Expert Tip: During mating season, brocket deer use their antlers to stab other deer in order to mate with a female. There is no specific date when this specie mates, but mostly it happens during autumn.
For an unknown period of time, the fawn remains dependent and hidden on the female brocket deer for an unknown period of time. Based on the records, a brocket deer can live up to 13 years old.
6. Cerbus Canadensis (Elk)
Elks are the second largest species of deer in North America after moose. Elk and moose are often used interchangeably by people. However, they are completely different animals in the territory of North America. A cow or female elk may weigh up to 450 pounds, and a bull, or male elk. can weigh up to 800 pounds.
It is often called wapiti by the Native Americans, which means light-colored deer. In actuality, an elk’s color, just like any other species of deer, depends upon the season. During winter, they become light brown and a reddish tan during summer.
The bull also shreds their antlers and regrows them up to 4 feet above their heads in preparation for the breeding season. Elks live in mostly open woodlands, forests, moors, pastures, grasslands, and mountainous areas.
Elks are grazers and browsers too, so they feed mostly on herbaceous and woody plants or anything that is available during that season.
Take note: Elks have four stomachs, and they are ruminants. Elks have to store, regurgitate, re-chew, and swallow before digestion even begins. During mating seasons, aside from the signature herd forming and battle, bulls have a distinctive way of showing strength and dominance to other bulls attempting to get the attention of the cows.
“Bugles” is a high-pitched, calliope-like whistle coming from the male bulls to win over the other males. This sound may be heard from afar. After winning and mating, female elks have eight to nine months of pregnancy, which is quite similar to humans.
They also tend to leave the herd before giving birth as the predators can easily spot the large group of elk putting the lives of the calves in danger. The separation from the herd may happen until the calves are large enough to survive. Additionally, cows live longer than bulls. They can live up to 20 years old, while bulls rarely surpass the age of 12.
Many species and subspecies of deer can be seen in North America. They have contributed to balancing the ecosystem by being part of the food chain but also as helpers in growing more plants and trees.
The white-tailed deer is the most common deer that we can observe, while the deer that have the least population is the Brocket deer. Even though the life expectancy is quite high for these animals, we must learn not to abuse their kind. Many deer have become a target for hunting for meat skin and antlers.
Climate change greatly affects their way of living, making them vulnerable to other diseases. We must learn how to conserve these deer and assess what we can do to help them live longer and healthier lives.