White-tailed deer

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White-tailed deer
White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

White-tailed deer ( Odocoileus virginianus )

without rank: Forehead weapon bearer (Pecora)
Family : Deer (Cervidae)
Subfamily : Deer (Capreolinae)
Tribe : True Deer (Odocoileini)
Genre : America deer ( Odocoileus )
Type : White-tailed deer
Scientific name
Odocoileus virginianus
( Zimmermann , 1780)

The white-tailed deer ( Odocoileus virginianus ) is the most common species of deer in North America. It is significantly smaller and more delicate than the wapitis, which is often found in the same regions .


Skull ( Museum Wiesbaden Collection )

In winter the fur is almost pewter gray, but in summer it is reddish and darker above than below. It is named after the tail, which is brown on the top but white on the underside. On the run, he is raised up so that you can see a white "escape signal". Only the males have antlers. It is thrown off after the rut and then formed again. Both antlers are pointed forward and outward in a semicircle and usually carry six or seven rungs.

The size varies greatly between the subspecies. In the animals of the northern USA the shoulder height is about 1.0 to 1.1 m and the weight of the male between 100 and 150 kg. Females are slightly smaller and lighter. The subspecies become smaller towards the south. White-tailed deer live on the Florida Keys with an average shoulder height of 60 cm and a weight of 35 kg ( island dwarfing ). Life expectancy is around ten years.

Usually only the males wear antlers. However, there are phenotypes in which the females also wear antlers. There is also an antlerless morph of males, but they are evidently capable of reproduction. Another phenotype in males does not lose the velvety skin over the antlers that is usually shed by the males once the antlers are formed. This phenotype also exhibits a physique that is closer to that of the females. They are considered sterile. In some regions, the proportion of such white-tailed deer is 10 percent of the total population, but in isolated cases it can be significantly higher. Biologist Joan Roughgarden therefore argues that the proportion is too high for the proportion to be considered harmful to the general population.


Distribution of the white-tailed deer in both Americas
The Key white-tailed deer subspecies lives in the Florida Keys
White-tailed deer, female with calf
Female white-tailed deer of the subspecies O. v. truei in Costa Rica
Highly volatile white-tailed deer

The white-tailed deer is common from southern Canada to Peru and northern Brazil . It is one of the most widespread deer species. They are adapted to a variety of different habitats. They can be found in the great forests of New England as well as on the prairie , in the swamps of the Everglades as well as in the semi-deserts of Mexico and Arizona . In South America it inhabits gallery forests , coastal bushland and the northern slopes of the Andes , but is absent from the rainforest. In Central and South America, white-tailed deer are generally much rarer than in North America (see Threat and protection ).

White-tailed deer have also been introduced to other parts of the world. In 1934, few animals were brought to Finland , where they have since multiplied strongly and spread automatically to neighboring Scandinavian countries . There is also an introduced population in the Czech Republic . The white-tailed deer is also one of seven species of deer that were naturalized in New Zealand for hunting purposes.

Way of life

In general, the white-tailed deer is more of a loner than a herd animal. However, this only applies to a limited extent, because, especially outside the mating season, females and males always come together to form loose associations. During the rut, the males look for single females - unlike elk, they do not try to maintain a harem.

After a gestation period of around 200 days, the females give birth to one or two, very rarely three or four calves. Like many young deer, the calves are covered with white spots at birth.

The white-tailed deer lives on leaves, grasses, buds, berries and other wild fruits as well as tree bark. It has a multitude of enemies, in addition to humans, especially wolves , pumas , bears and coyotes , and in South and Central America also the jaguar .

Threat and protection

Before the arrival of European settlers, there were an estimated 40 million white-tailed deer in North America alone. They were hunted by the Indians , but this had little to no effect on the population. The colonists hunted the deer for their skins and skins, but also for fun. By 1900 the populations declined rapidly until there were only 500,000 of these animals in North America. Since then, regulation of hunting has led to a major improvement, but the situation varies greatly from region to region.

There are areas, such as the Great Lakes area , where white-tailed deer are as common as they were before. There are now 14 million white-tailed deer in the US again. In Mexico , Central and South America, however, the numbers continue to decline.

Some subspecies are almost extinct and are on the IUCN Red List . These are:

  • Key white-tailed deer ( Odocoileus virginianus clavium ) on the Florida Keys, a small subspecies; due to the hunt there were only 26 of these deer left in 1945. Thanks to intensive protection measures, there are now 300 animals again, but the growing tourism in the Keys is cause for concern. Almost all Key whitetail deer live on No Name Key and Big Pine Key . Neighboring islands can sometimes be reached by swimming, but the lack of sufficient fresh water always makes it necessary to return to the two islands mentioned. The IUCN rates the subspecies as "critically endangered".
  • Columbia white-tailed deer ( Odocoileus virginianus leucurus ), named for the Columbia River in Washington and Oregon . In the meantime, the populations had fallen to 400 animals, as human settlement on the banks of the Columbia River took away the animal's habitat. Today there are 3,000 animals again, so in 2003 the US Fish & Wildlife Service decided to remove the subspecies from the list of endangered animals in the USA. In the IUCN , this subspecies is classified as "low endangered".


The closest relative of the white-tailed deer is the mule deer . The two species are mutually fertile, so that hybrids occasionally occur. Mostly the mother animal is a mule doe. The males of the white-tailed deer prevail over the males of the mule deer in courting for a rutting female, because they are faster than mule deer and also significantly more persistent in pursuing the rutting female. While the offspring are fertile, they have a higher mortality rate than the offspring of mule or white-tailed deer. They neither show such pronounced bouncing jumps as pure mule deer, nor do they reach the escape speed and endurance of white-tailed deer and are therefore more likely to fall prey to predators. Both types are susceptible to chronic wasting disease .

The white-tailed deer is the representative animal of the US states of Arkansas , Illinois , Michigan , Mississippi , Nebraska , New Hampshire , Ohio , Oklahoma , Pennsylvania , South Carolina and Vermont . As in the coat of arms of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan , it appears in the flag of Michigan and in the seal of Michigan as well as in the flag of Vermont .

Walt Disney took the liberty of turning the European deer from the novel into a white-tailed deer for his cartoon Bambi , since deer do not occur in North America. Since deer fawns and white-tailed deer calves are very similar, the difference was seldom noticed by European audiences. To this day, among other things, the opinion is widespread that deer are female deer and, conversely, deer are male deer

Web links

Commons : Whitetail Deer  Album with pictures, videos and audio files


  • Leonard Lee Rue III: The Encyclopedia of Deer . Voyageur Press, Stillwater 2003, ISBN 0-89658-590-5

Single receipts

  1. ^ A b Joan Roughgarden: Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People. University of California Press, Berkeley 2004, ISBN 0-520-24073-1 , p. 38.
  2. https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/article10294577.ece (English)
  3. Rue, p. 86.