White-Tailed Deer Fact Sheet

Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Cervidae
Genus: Odocoileus
Species: virginianus

Range: Most of North America, except for extreme northern and western parts; Central America; and northern South America.

Status of the Species: The white-tailed deer today in the United States occupy more habitats over a greater range and in larger numbers than ever before. At the start of this century, they had been eliminated from most of their range in a number of states. The species occurs in low numbers in much of Central America and northern South America. Their low density in these areas stems from overhunting.

Status of the SRS Deer Herd:
The white-tailed deer on the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C., had been reduced to very low numbers, perhaps only a couple of dozen deer in the swamp and lowland forests, during the early 1950s. Whit the establishment of the SRS, the herd expanded to more than 5,000 deer, and hunting during the fall and early winter commenced in the late 1960s. The current herd size is slightly more than 4,000 after annual hunts. The herd has an even sex ratio, high levels of genetic diversity, and deer are in good condition as measured by the amount of body fat. Because of hunting, few deer live beyond four years of age.

Habitat Description: White-tailed deer occur in every habitat on the SRS, except in the deep swamp. It is naturally considered a forest species, occuring on the edge of forest openings.

Breeding Biology: Whitetails are seasonal breeders with the peak occurring in early November, and the majority of all breeding occurs within one month before and after this time. On average, 40 percent of females breed their first year as fawns and nearly 100 percent of adult females breed during each year of their life. Females have one, two or occasionally three offspring. The usual number is two. On average, there are about 180 offspring produced per 100 females in the population each year.

Feeding Biology: Whitetails are predominately browsers, feeding on shrubs, vines, woody stems and both soft and hard mast. They even eat poison ivy as unwary hunters have found out when sorting through their rumen contents. Deer rarely graze on grass species.

Research: Scientists at the University of Georgia have studied white- tailed deer on the SRS since the late 1950s. Scientists have written more than 100 scientific papers, theses or dissertations, and reports about this species on the SRS. These publications have involved more than 100 researchers at more than 30 universities.

The SRS deer are among the best studied genetically of any mammalian population. White-tailed deer is one of the keystone species on the SRS -- it can affect most other terrestrial animal and plant species. Ecology Lab scientists have studied most aspects of the biology of this species. Studies have focused on prenatal and postnatal growth patterns, body condition, fat dynamics, radioecology, mineral cycling, genetics, antler development, food habits, habitat relationships, reproductive biology, developmental asymmetry, age structure, population fluctuations, and number of car accidents involving deer. The number of deer on the SRS is primarily controlled by the harvest of deer by hunters, and a correlation exists between the rate and magnitude of change in deer-car accidents and the number of deer.

Interesting Facts:
1. Whitetails are the most popular big-game species in North America.
2. There are more whitetails today in the United States than there were when Columbus discovered America.
3. Whitetails provide millions of people with recreation, food, clothing, decorations and even utensils.
4. Whitetails are among the most genetically variable mammals studied.
5. Whitetails on the SRS can almost double their number every year, and with this high reproductive rate and lack of predators, they can rapidly become a problem because of their effects on the vegetation of an area and their propensity to cause car accidents.


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