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Who Are Deer?

The white tailed deer can be seen across much of the United States. This mammal is a member of the Artiodactyla order, which contains animals that have even-toed hooves. As a member of the Cervidae family, the white tailed deer has close relations to the moose, the elk, and the caribou. The white tailed deer is the smallest member of the North American deer family, all which belong to the Odocoileus genus. The Odocoileus virginianus species refers to the North American deer that has a tail with a white underside, or the white tailed deer.

How Are White Tailed Deer Classified?

Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Cervidae
Genus: Odocoileus
Species: virginianus
Subspecies (Southern U.S.): osceola

What Do They Look Like?

The white tailed deer is named for the white coloring under its tail. The top of the tail is tan like the majority of the animal, but it is the flash of white on the bottom of the deer’s tail that gives this animal its signature name. Other close relatives, such as the black tailed deer, also share this trait but have a different color on the top side of the tail. The white on the bottom of the tail is used as a warning signal for other deer in the area. The deer also has other white spots around its belly, nose, and eyes. These light colorations contrast the brownish-tan color that covers the deer’s legs and body.

Male and female white tailed deer are very similar in appearance during most of the year, and only vary slightly in size—the males can weigh up to 300 pounds, while the females weigh up to 200 pounds. Deer are about 40 inches tall at the shoulder and about 6 feet long from nose to tail. The male deer also have antlers during mating season, which is the is the easiest way to distinguish a male from a female.

What Are Some Signs a Deer Has Been Around?

It is usually very easy to tell whether there are deer in the area, based on the marks they leave in their territories. One of the most significant indications that a deer is nearby is the appearance of a buck rub. A buck rub is when a male deer rubs the bark off of trees, usually about two feet off the ground. Some less common signs are deer trails and deer beds. A deer trail is a small narrow path that the deer follows; it leads the deer to buck rubs and deer beds right off the path. A deer bed is a small indentation in the ground that is surrounded by shrubs or other plants. This is where the deer will sleep on a regular basis.

What Kind of Tracks Do They Make?

The word Articodctyla means even-toed, and it is the name of the order that contains the white-tailed deer. This indicates that the two halves of a deer’s hooves are almost identical. The hooves are actually toenails that are strong enough to support the massive 300 pounds of the deer. Many people consider the tracks to form a heart shape, with the point of the heart leading to the direction that the deer was traveling.

For more information, see the References and Further Reading page.