Species: Whitetailed deer
Scientific name: Odcoileus virginianus
Claim to fame: The whitetailed deer is the most popular game animal in Missouri and probably the No. 1 wildlife species nationwide. Its size and abundance, as well as the taste of its meat, are all reasons this animal is a favorite quarry of hunters nationwide. Deer are highly popular sightings for nature viewers as well as hunters.
Species status: Whitetailed deer are abundant throughout the state.
First discovered: The first scientific description of the whitetailed deer was written by the German geographer and zoologist Eberhard August Wilhelm von Zimmerman in 1780. One of the works he is remembered for is “Specimen Zoologiae Geographicae Quadrupedum,” which was one of the first works that focused on the geographical distributions of mammals.
Family matters: Whitetailed deer and their close relatives, blacktailed deer (also called mule deer), are members of the Cervidae family of mammals. In North America, this group includes elk, moose and caribou.
Length: up to eight feet long and four to five feet tall
Diet: Deer are grazing animals, feeding chiefly on the nuts, fruits, leaves, twigs, shrubs and the foliage of herbaceous plants. Here in the southern part of the state, acorns are a major food item for deer in the fall.
Weight: up to 300 pounds
Distinguishing characteristics: A whitetailed deer’s characteristics are well-known. They are a tan color. Males have antlers, which vary in sizes and thickness. Antlers are shed each year. Adult deer are often thought of as being silent creatures, but they make vocalizations. Their main sounds are bleats (made by fawns and does) and grunts and snorts (made by bucks and does).
Life span: Deer may live up to 15 years in the wild and 25 years in captivity.
Habitat: In Missouri, whitetailed deer can be found in a wide range of habitats and reside in both rural and urban areas.
Life cycle: Most fawns are born from late May to June. In Missouri, fawns weigh from four to eight pounds at birth and can stand as soon as 30 minutes after birth. Fawns begin eating vegetation at two weeks. During the summer, does and bucks are segregated, sedentary and spend most of their active time eating. Does and fawns travel and feed together throughout the summer. Fall is a busy time for deer. Does and fawns continue to travel in groups, but now fawns are totally weaned and does feed aggressively to recover from the stresses of raising them. Deer of all ages and both genders are feeding heavily at this time of year in preparation for the lean months of winter ahead. In the midst of this feeding activity, the whitetail’s courtship activities (called the rut) take place from mid-October through November. During this period, bucks make rubs, which are signposts to advertise their presence. Rubs provide visual cues and scents that inform other deer about the rub-maker. Scrapes are also signposts made by bucks. When making a scrape, a deer paws the ground and urinates on the disturbed soil. Scrapes are used by bucks to advertise their presence and to attract or keep track of breeding females.