Deer have long bodies and long legs. Coats are various shades of brown; some species have white fur to blend in with the arctic environment. They have an enhanced sense of smell. All are capable swimmers and fast runners. Males of nearly every species have velvet-covered antlers that they shed each year; in some species, females also have antlers. Hooves help them navigate snow, but deep snows can lead to death due to lack of mobility, which results in predation and starvation. Males are usually larger than females. Deer species vary in weight from 22 pounds (10 kilograms) to 1,764 pounds (800 kilograms).
Deer are found everywhere except Australia and Africa.
Depending on the species, deer live in a variety of habitats. Most deer species prefer areas with thick forest undergrowth.
Deer are herbivores (plant eaters) that eat lichens (fungus found on trees), leaves, twigs, shoots, berries, and grasses. They have four stomach chambers, which allow them to chew and swallow their food and then regurgitate (vomit) it later for further chewing. This makes digestion more efficient.
BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION
Some deer are solitary (lone), but most species are polygynous (puh-LIH-juh-nus; one male to several female mates). Depending on species, they live in mother-offspring pairs or herds numbering into the tens of thousands of individuals.
Gestation (pregnancy) periods vary depending on species, but usually single births, sometimes twins, result. Calves are nursed (fed mother’s milk) for a short time. Most babies are born able to walk, even run, within hours.
Predators include wolves, grizzly bears, coyotes, mountain lions, foxes, and wild cats. Life expectancy varies by species. Some deer live an average of two years, while others can live past the age of fifteen years.
DEER AND PEOPLE
A number of species are important game animals throughout the world. They are hunted for meat and sport, and the larger species are often a source of subsistence for native cultures that herd them.
Of the fifty-seven species, twenty-seven are included on the IUCN Red List. One is Extinct, died out; one is Critically Endangered, facing an extremely high risk of extinction; four are Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction; six are Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction; four are Near Threatened, not currently threatened, but could become so; and eleven are considered Data Deficient, meaning there is not enough information to determine a conservation status. Reason for threats include overexploitation by humans as well as habitat destruction.