Deer are hoofed, artiodactyl mammals of family Cervidae. They have bony, branching antlers, which are shed and regrown annually. The family contains sixteen genera and approximately forty species, and inhabits the Americas, Europe, Asia, and North Africa. Deer live in woods, prairies, swamps, mountains, and tundra. Common species are the white-tailed and mule deer in the United States; wapiti in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia; moose in North America and Europe; reindeer in Russia, Finland, and Alaska; and caribou in northern North America. The four deer subfamilies are the Cervinae (true deer), Moschinae (musk deer), Muntiacinae (muntjacs), and Odocoileinae (hollow-toothed deer). They are hunted worldwide for their meat, hides, and antlers. Deer meat (venison) tastes beeflike. Tanned deerhide makes soft leather. Reindeer, which are domesticated in Scandinavia and Russia, are sources of meat, leather, and milk, and serve as draft animals.
Physical Characteristics of Deer
Deer have gray, brown, red, or yellow upper bodies with lighter colored bellies. Their stiff fur is smooth looking in the summer and longer and shaggier in cold weather. Deer shed fur in spring and fall, a process called molting. They range in size from seven feet at the shoulder and a ton in weight for moose, to one foot at the shoulder and a weight of around twenty pounds for the tiny pudu. All deer have lithe, compact bodies, short tails, large, narrow ears, long, slender legs, and paired hooves on each foot. Their eyes are large, placed on the sides of the head, and yield a wide visual range. Deer also have keen senses of smell and hearing. They run quite quickly to escape danger. Males of most species have antlers, as do female reindeer and caribou. Antlers are solid bone growths arising from the frontal bone. In moose, the largest deer, they reach widths of six feet and weigh nearly fifty pounds. Antlers are shed and regrown each year, arising from pedicles on the frontal bone. The pedicles and the growing antlers are covered with soft skin called velvet. Antlers grow rapidly. When the antlers have reached their maximum growth, bone deposition at the antler's base cuts off the velvet's blood supply. This makes the velvet dry up, and the itchiness of the dry velvet leads the deer to rub it off. The shape and complexity of branched antlers is species dependent. Antler shedding in late fall is due to bone resorption at the antler bases. This annoys deer and they rub their antlers against trees, weakening them and causing them to come off. Antlers are important protection for individual deer and their family groups. Males use antlers to fight other males and to protect their herds frompredators. The protective function may explain why, most often, it is the males who have horns. Horns of females are much smaller than those of males of a species. Deer are herbivorous, and their lower molars have ridges which enable them to grind vegetable foods. They are ruminants (cud chewers) and have four-chambered stomachs. Nearly all deer have facial glands in front of each eye. These make strongly scented musk, which is used to mark their territories.
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