What’s that deer?

Flanders Moss NNR

It is the time of year when the red deer stags on the moss are shedding their antlers. It means that you might initially look across a group and thinking they are all females or calves. But a closer look and even without antlers you can tell the difference.

The first 2 pictures below are of a female or hind. She has a softer, slimmer face and a long smooth neck.

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The next 2 pictures are of a male or stag. You can compare him with the hind above and see that he has a much heavier build with a fuller face and a big shaggy mane around his neck.

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If you look a bit closer it seems that this great big chunky fellow has tiny stubs for antlers. Either he shed them early and these are antlers starting to grow back or he only produced tiny ones this year.

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The stag above is probably a young animal producing its first minimal set of antlers but it could be an older animal that is in really poor condition.

Antlers are odd things for an animal to produce. There is a tremendous amount of energy put into growing a new set of antlers each year only for them to drop off . Even though antler is the fastest growing of any animal bone it takes a red deer a whole summer to grow a set. There is a hard core of a bone-like structure that is covered by soft tissue called velvet that provides the blood supply to feed the growth. The size of the antlers depends on the health of the animal, genetics (i.e. did the Dad have big antlers?) and how well-fed the animal was over winter. By early autumn, as the animal approaches the rut, the levels of testosterone rise and this slows the antler growth by closing off the veins taking blood to the growth areas, leaving just the bone core.

And the purpose of antlers? Basically to look good to the ladies. If you are a hind, large antlers represent a big, healthy, well fed animal which is therefore likely to make a better father to your calves. So why haven’t deer continue to evolve bigger and bigger antlers? There is a cut-off point where it takes so much energy to grow and carry antlers that if they are too big then the animal looses condition and so appears less healthy to the ladies or maybe doesn’t make it through a hard winter.

So in the case of red deer stags size does matter but you can have too much of a good thing.

 

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