White-tailed Deer

Category: Animal Info Pages

whitetail tracks


whitetailFew game species are as sought and prized as the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus).  Whitetail is a blanket term for a pretty wide variety of deer species native to the Americas.  There are as many as 40 different subspecies native to the Americas that all display a white underside to their tails.  This coloring acts as a warning sign to other deer which causes them to flee, as many disheartened hunters can probably attest.


Deer have sub-par eyesight compared to humans.  Deer are essentially red-green color blind. Their color vision is limited to the blue and green wavelength, and as a result, deer likely can distinguish blue from red, but not green from red, or orange from red.  While the whitetail's eyesight may be sub par, their hearing is excellent, and their sense of smell is better than that of even the bloodhound.  Deer have roughly 297 million olfactory receptors, while the bloodhound has about 220 million (humans top out at just 5 million). 


The whitetail typically exhibits a reddish coat during hotter months, and a grey coat throughout the cold season.  While there are instances of albinism in deer, there is also an entire population of white deer (non-albino) located in Romulus, New York.  Strong efforts have been made to protect this genetically unique population.


Whitetail species follow 'Bergmann's Rule', which states that the further from the equator an animal is, the larger its average size.  There is a tremendous amount of variance in the size of whitetail deer between the equatorial species and northern species.  The average north American male deer usually grows to around 100 pounds, but there have been many harvested deer over 200 lbs, and several over 400 lbs have been taken in the most northern reaches of the whitetail's natural range.


The whitetail is highly adaptive.  While loss of habitat tends to adversely affect most wild species, deer seem to thrive from it.  Whitetail are the most broadly distributed ungulates (hoofed animal).  White tail have been found to flourish in pretty much any environment the Americas offer, from prairie to forest, and especially suburban areas.  Even still, some species of whitetail have been listed as endangered, such as the Florida Key deer, and the Columbian whitetail.  



Deer eat a wide variety of plant material.  Everything from acorns to cacti, leaves, fruit, corn, poison ivy, grasses, and just about any other thing they can suck up.  They have even been witnessed eating small songbirds and mice!  Deer have ruminating stomachs like cows, meaning that their stomach has four different chambers that serve different purposes.  These chambers even house different bacteria that are responsible for aiding in the digestion of specific food items.  This adaptation is a major benefit in that it allows the deer to consume food quickly, and then digest it later in safety.



Few wild animals are such a necessary food source to the ecosystem as the whitetail.  Just about every single meat eating animal in the Americas will consume whitetail, either live or as carrion.  There was recently a photographer that managed to catch pictures of a golden eagle attempting to take down a yearling deer.  Most of the whitetail's natural predators focus on easily taken injured, or young deer.  This occurrence actually improves the whitetail's genetics through natural selection.


Managing the deer population is essential to controlling the spread of diseases and parasites.  Both Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are spread via parasites that infect deer.  The more deer in a given area, the greater the chance of tick borne diseases that can infect people and our livestock.  Lyme disease is the most common vector disease in the U.S., and deer are the primary host for the ticks that carry it.  In fact, studies show that an area's rate of people infected with Lyme disease reflects the average deer population.