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Deer facts for kids

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Temporal range: Early Oligocene – Recent
Red deer stag 2009 denmark.jpg
A fully grown male Red deer
Scientific classification

Goldfuss, 1820
Moose in lake
A moose, the largest deer
Capreolus capreolus Finland 2002
A baby roe deer, hiding
Fawn and mother
A white-tailed deer mother and her fawn
Female fallow deer

Deer are a group of even-toed ungulate mammals. They form the family Cervidae.

A male deer is called stag or buck, a female deer is called doe, and a young deer is called fawn.

There are about 60 species of deer. They originally lived in the northern hemisphere, and now are native to Europe, Asia, North America and South America. Humans introduced deer to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

In the wild deer live about 3 to 5 years.


Deer constitute the second most diverse family of artiodactyla after bovids. Though of a similar build, deer are strongly distinguished from antelopes by their antlers, which are temporary and regularly regrown unlike the permanent horns of bovids. Characteristics typical of deer include long, powerful legs, a diminutive tail and long ears. Deer exhibit a broad variation in physical proportions. The largest extant deer is the moose, which is nearly 2.6 metres (8 ft 6 in) tall and weighs up to 800 kilograms (1,800 lb). The elk stands 1.4–2 metres (4 ft 7 in – 6 ft 7 in) at the shoulder and weighs 240–450 kilograms (530–990 lb). The northern pudu is the smallest deer in the world; it reaches merely 32–35 centimetres (12+12–14 in) at the shoulder and weighs 3.3–6 kilograms (7+1413+14 lb). The southern pudu is only slightly taller and heavier. Sexual dimorphism is quite pronounced – in most species males tend to be larger than females, and, except for the reindeer, only males possess antlers.

Coat colour generally varies between red and brown, though it can be as dark as chocolate brown in the tufted deer or have a grayish tinge as in elk. Different species of brocket deer vary from gray to reddish brown in coat colour. Several species such as the chital, the fallow deer and the sika deer feature white spots on a brown coat. Coat of reindeer shows notable geographical variation. Deer undergo two moults in a year; for instance, in red deer the red, thin-haired summer coat is gradually replaced by the dense, greyish brown winter coat in autumn, which in turn gives way to the summer coat in the following spring. Moulting is affected by the photoperiod.

Deer are also excellent jumpers and swimmers. Deer are ruminants, or cud-chewers, and have a four-chambered stomach. Some deer, such as those on the island of Rùm, do consume meat when it is available.

Nearly all deer have a facial gland in front of each eye. The gland contains a strongly scented pheromone, used to mark its home range. Bucks of a wide range of species open these glands wide when angry or excited. All deer have a liver without a gallbladder. Deer also have a tapetum lucidum, which gives them sufficiently good night vision.


Sambar deers Fighting Silvassa
Two Sambar deer fighting, Silvassa, India

All male deer possess antlers, with the exception of the water deer, in which males have long tusk-like canines that reach below the lower jaw. Females generally lack antlers, though female reindeer bear antlers smaller and less branched than those of the males. Occasionally females in other species may develop antlers, especially in telemetacarpal deer such as European roe deer, red deer, white-tailed deer and mule deer and less often in plesiometacarpal deer. A study of antlered female white-tailed deer noted that antlers tend to be small and malformed, and are shed frequently around the time of parturition.

The fallow deer and the various subspecies of the reindeer have the largest as well as the heaviest antlers, both in absolute terms as well as in proportion to body mass (an average of eight grams per kilogram of body mass); the tufted deer, on the other hand, has the smallest antlers of all deer, while the pudú has the lightest antlers with respect to body mass (0.6 g per kilogram of body mass). The structure of antlers show considerable variation; while fallow deer and elk antlers are palmate (with a broad central portion), white-tailed deer antlers include a series of tines sprouting upward from a forward-curving main beam, and those of the pudú are mere spikes. Antler development begins from the pedicel, a bony structure that appears on the top of the skull by the time the animal is a year old. The pedicel gives rise to a spiky antler the following year, that is replaced by a branched antler in the third year. This process of losing a set of antlers to develop a larger and more branched set continues for the rest of the life. The antlers emerge as soft tissues (known as velvet antlers) and progressively harden into bony structures (known as hard antlers), following mineralisation and blockage of blood vessels in the tissue, from the tip to the base.

Antlers might be one of the most exaggerated male secondary sexual characteristics, and are intended primarily for reproductive success through sexual selection and for combat. The tines (forks) on the antlers create grooves that allow another male's antlers to lock into place. This allows the males to wrestle without risking injury to the face. Antlers are correlated to an individual's position in the social hierarchy and its behaviour. For instance, the heavier the antlers, the higher the individual's status in the social hierarchy, and the greater the delay in shedding the antlers; males with larger antlers tend to be more aggressive and dominant over others. Antlers can be an honest signal of genetic quality; males with larger antlers relative to body size tend to have increased resistance to pathogens and higher reproductive capacity.

In elk in Yellowstone National Park, antlers also provide protection against predation by wolves.

Homology of tines, that is, the branching structure of antlers among species, have been discussed before the 1900s. Recently, a new method to describe the branching structure of antlers and determining homology of tines was developed.


Most deer bear 32 teeth; the corresponding dental formula is: The elk and the reindeer may be exceptions, as they may retain their upper canines and thus have 34 teeth (dental formula: The Chinese water deer, tufted deer, and muntjac have enlarged upper canine teeth forming sharp tusks, while other species often lack upper canines altogether. The cheek teeth of deer have crescent ridges of enamel, which enable them to grind a wide variety of vegetation. The teeth of deer are adapted to feeding on vegetation, and like other ruminants, they lack upper incisors, instead having a tough pad at the front of their upper jaw.


Deer are browsers, and feed primarily on foliage of grasses, sedges, forbs, shrubs and trees, secondarily on lichens in northern latitudes during winter. They have small, unspecialized stomachs by ruminant standards, and high nutrition requirements. Rather than eating and digesting vast quantities of low-grade fibrous food as, for example, sheep and cattle do, deer select easily digestible shoots, young leaves, fresh grasses, soft twigs, fruit, fungi, and lichens. The low-fibered food, after minimal fermentation and shredding, passes rapidly through the alimentary canal. The deer require a large amount of minerals such as calcium and phosphate in order to support antler growth, and this further necessitates a nutrient-rich diet. There are some reports of deer engaging in carnivorous activity, such as eating dead alewives along lakeshores or depredating the nests of northern bobwhites.


Deer fawn, 1 month
Fawn, about 1 month old, near Columbus, Ohio

Deer do not make nests or dens. They find a safe and comfortable place to rest under low hanging evergreen branches. They stay close to where they can find food. In summer, they eat grasses, plants and weeds. In the fall, they like mushrooms and small branches. They do not store their food for the winter. If the snow is not deep, they use their hooves to uncover moss and leaves. If the snow is deep, they eat twigs and branches.

The doe usually has 1 or 2 fawns in the spring. The fawn can stand immediately after birth, but is weak. The doe will hide each fawn in a different place. They are camouflaged by spots on their backs.


Deer have many predators. Wolves, cougar, dogs and people will eat deer. They are always looking, listening and smelling for danger. They can usually run faster than their predators.


Deer are a monophyletic group. They originated in the northern hemisphere and arrived in some Gondwana continents much later. The Red Deer are found in the Atlas Mountains of North Africa, and some deer arrived in South America via the Great American Interchange. Below the Sahara, Africa belongs to the antelopes, which occupy a niche similar to the deer.

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See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Cervidae para niños

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