Cervidae – Deers

The family of the Rudolph and Bambi! Their antlers are replaced annually, and they never grow out of style

Deer embodies a blend of grace, adaptability, and biological intrigue that captures the fascination of naturalists and wildlife enthusiasts worldwide. This family’s members range from the imposing moose of the Northern hemisphere’s forests, characterized by their massive size and formidable antlers, to the diminutive Northern pudu of the South American Andes, the world’s smallest deer species, standing only as tall as a standard ruler. The diversity within the Cervidae family is remarkable, with species adapted to a wide array of habitats, including the icy landscapes of the Arctic tundra, temperate forests, and the lush tropical forests of India and Southeast Asia.

One of the most striking features of deer is their antlers, primarily found in males, although in a few species like the caribou (also known as reindeer), both males and females bear them. Antlers are among the fastest-growing animal tissues, a marvel of nature’s engineering. Most deer species shed their old antlers each year to grow a new set, a process driven by hormonal changes and environmental cues. The rate of antler growth can be astonishing, with some species adding several inches in just a week.

Antlers become central to deer social dynamics during the breeding season or rut. Males use their antlers in combat, clashing with rivals in displays of strength and stamina to establish dominance and secure mating rights. These battles, while sometimes leading to injuries, generally do not result in death, as they are more about showcasing strength than inflicting harm. Beyond physical combat, the size and condition of a male’s antlers act as a visual signal to females, indicative of the male’s genetic quality, health, and ability to secure resources. This makes antlers a critical factor in sexual selection among deer.