White-tailed Deer Facts | Pictures

Odocoileus virginianus Common Names: whitetail

Order: Artiodactyla
Suborder: Ruminantia
Family: Cervidae
Species: Odocoileus virginianus


General description The white-tailed deer is a member of the family Cervidae in the order Artiodactyla.  The white-tailed deer male and female differ in mean body length.  The male’s average size is 195 cm and weighs an average of 90 kg and the female’s body length is approximately 170 cm and weighs about 65 kg. The male weighing substantially more than the female. The average shoulder length of the two differs only by 10 cm, the male at 100 cm and the female at 90 cm.  The average tail length for female and male was about 27 cm.  Its tail is large, brown on the top, and white underneath and by the edges.  The antlers of the white-tailed deer have many prongs (record 28) and are important weapons of defence.  They grow forward and towards the outside.  The most important feature of the white-tailed deer is it’s narrow pointed hooves.  The third and fourth digits are the most well developed and they carry most of the weight of the animal.  The second and the fifth digits are considerably reduced and are situated behind the third and the fourth digits.  The first digits are absent.  Also on each side of the foot are located small dew claws and its hooves.

Geographical Distribution and Habitat Requirements The white-tailed deer is widely distributed throughout New Brunswick and the rest of the Maritimes due to natural immigration in 1818.  The subspecies occupying the Maritimes is the Odocoileus virginianus borealis.  It is also widespread throughout Ontario and Quebec.  Odocoileus virginianus dacotensis occupies most of the prairies and the Odocoileus virginianus ochrourus occupies most of British Colombia.  The white-tailed deer is an herbivore adapted to a variety of habitats.  It can be found concealing itself in thickets or in open country in large groups feeding mainly on soft and easily digestible plants rich in energy.  It does very well in agricultural areas.  The white-tailed deer is also distributed in the South eastern part of North America , in the southern most part of South America and throughout Central America.  It’s great variety of habitats means that the white-tailed can live in a wide range of temperatures.

General Biology The white-tailed deer is one of the most lively and elegant of its family. Its size varies a great deal with the ranges of temperatures from North America to Central, and South America following Bergmam’s rule, “… races from cooler climates in species of warm -blooded vertebrates tend to be larger than races of the same species living in warmer climates… .”  With great endurance and speed, it escapes its large predators running rapidly with its tail raised through preselected pathways.  These pathways lead it through high grasses or deep snow.  Nevertheless the white-tailed deer can quickly round around these obstacles.  In the eastern white-tailed deer is present a brain worm which is absent from the western white-tailed deer.  This parasite is harmless to the eastern white-tailed deer, but can be fatal to other deer species. The brainworm present in the eastern white-tailed deer prevents other ruminants like the moose from entering their territory and creating a competitive environment. They also have a winter tick and the giant liver fluke which has also prevented other deer species from entering it’s territory (moose and elk).     The white-tailed deer also have “training fights” between stags to determine who will be the highest ranking deer, dominating male and prime choice for the females. The rut behaviour of the bucks occurs during late November to early December and they do not defend their territory like other deer species, but they do identify it with urine and by rubbing their antlers on small saplings. They also use them to fight other males during the rutting season. After the breeding season the antlers are shed and new ones will begin to grow in the spring. The females that are ready to mate become very excited and also urinate in the “rutting trenches”.  The bucks vocalizes aggressively to attract the female and a racing game begins to attract attention.  One of the reasons they run is to attract competition, also so that the females can eliminate the slower bucks.  Speed is an important feature in their mates.      The white tailed deer has a life span of 15 years.  They can begin reproduction in some cases just 2 months after they have stopped weaning.  However, the development peak is at the age of 4-5 years.  The gestation period of the white-tailed deer can vary between 273-294 days with generally 2 to 3 young at birth weighing 1.1-3.3 lb.  The social behaviour of the doe is a very maternal and caring one.  The doe will tolerate the daughter giving birth and raising her fawn in it’s territory.  The daughter will only leave once she herself has found a territory.

Conservation The white-tailed is not an endangered species.  It is the most widespread big game species in all of North America.  It is so far only endangered in Europe where it has poorly developped with the exception of locally protected areas.

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