1902 Encyclopedia > Deer


DEER (Gervidae), a family of Ruminant Artiodactyle Mammals, distinguished by the possession of deciduous branching horns or antlers, and by the presence of spots on the young. The antlers are borne by the frontal bone, and generally begin to appear towards the end of spring. At that season there is a marked determination of blood to the head, the vessels surrounding the frontal eminences become temporarily enlarged, and the budding horn grows with marvellous rapidity, the antlers of a full-grown stag being produced in ten weeks. At first the horns are soft, vascular, and highly sensitive, and are covered with a delicate hairy integument known as the " velvet," amply provided with blood-vessels. On attaining their full growth the " burr," consisting of a ring of osseous tubercles at the base of the horn, is formed, and this by pressing upon, gradually cuts off the blood-vessels which supply nutriment to the antlers. The velvety covering then begins to shrivel and to peel off, its disappearance being hastened by the deer rubbing its antlers against trees and rocks ; while the grooves, which are seen to furrow the now exposed surface, mark the place of the former blood-vessels. With the single exception of the reindeer, antlers are con-fined to the male sex, and are fully developed at the com-mencement of the rutting season, when they are brought into use as offensive weapons in the sanguinary fights between the males for possession of the females. When the season of love is over they are shed, reappearing, how-ever, in the following spring, and continuing to grow larger and heavier until the deer attains its full growth. Whether the deer inhabiting the warmer regions of the earth shed their antlers every year has been a matter of considerable dispute, but in a recent work (Highlands of Central India) Forsyth states that he has convinced himself, from repeated observations, that in Indian deer this operation does not take place annually. In castrated animals the antlers either cease to appear or are merely rudimentary, while any influence whatever which disturbs the general system seems detrimental to their growth, as was observed in a case quoted by Darwin, where the antlers of a Wapiti deer, formed during a voyage from America, were singularly stunted, although the same individual afterwards, when living under normal conditions, produced perfect horns. Spots are common to the young of so many species of deer that their presence may fairly be regarded as a family character. These spots persist through life in such forms as the Axis, or Spotted Deer (Axis maculata), but in the majority of species they altogether disappear in the adult form. Darwin considers that in all such cases the old have had their colour changed in the course of time, while the young have remained but little altered, and this he holds has been effected " through the principle of inheritance at corre-sponding ages." The lachrymal sinus, or " tearpit," is present in most species of deer. This consists of a cavity beneath each eye, capable of being opened at pleasure, in which a waxy substance of a disagreeable odour is secreted, the purpose of which is not yet clearby ascertained. " The big round tears " which the contemplative Jacques watched, as they

" Coursed one another down his innocent nose In piteous chase,"

is Shakespeare's interpretation of the appearance presented by the motion of the glistening edges of the tearpits in the stag. The deer family comprises 8 genera and 52 species, distributed over all the great regions of the earth except the Ethiopian, and living under the most diverse climatic conditions. Their total absence from Africa south of the Sahara maybe due, as A. R. Wallace (Geographical Distribution of Animals) contends, to the presence in the past, as now, of a great belt of dry and desert country effectually preventing the immigration from Europe into Africa of such a forest-frequenting group as the deer, while favour-ing the introduction of antelopes, which attain their greatest development in that region. They are also absent from Australia, although present in the Austro-Malayan region. The following are some of the more remarkable species.

Red Deer or Stag (Cervus elaphus), the largest of the British deer, is a native of the temperate regions of Europe and Northern Asia, inhabiting dense forests, or frequenting moors and barren hill-sides as in Scotland. In England, where in feudal times it was protected by forest laws, which set greater value on the life of a stag than on that of a man, it was formerly abundant in all the royal forests. It is now almost extinct in that country, as well as in Ireland, in the wild state. In Scotland considerable herds are still to be found in the Highlands, and in several of the Western Isles, although, owing probably to the diminished extent of their feeding grounds, to the breeding in and in which takes place, and to the anxiety of deer-stalkers to secure the finest heads, the species is believed to be degenerating. The finest specimens in this country are found in the deer forests of Sutherlandshire, but these are inferior in size to those still obtained in the east of Europe. The antlers of the Stag are rounded, and bear three " tines," or branches, and a crown consisting of three or more points. The points increase in number with the age of the creature, and when 12 are present it is known in Scot-land as a "royal stag." This number, however, is sometimes exceeded, as in the case of a pair of antlers, weighing 74 lb, from a stag killed in Transylvania, which had 45 points. The antlers during the second year consist of a simple un-branched stem, to which a tine or branch is added in each suc-ceeding year, until the normal development is attained, after which their growth is somewhat irregular. The Red Deer is gregarious, the females and calves herding together apart from the males except at- the rutting season, which begins about the end of September and lasts for three weeks. During this time the males go in search of the females, and are exceedingly fierce and dangerous. The period of gestation extends a few days beyond eight months, and the hind usually produces a single calf. The stag is remarkably shy and wary, and its sense of smell is exceedingly acute. In former times it was hunted with horse, hound, and horn, and such is still the practice in Devonshire and in Ireland, but in Scotland the old method has been superseded by " stalking." A full grown stag stands about 4 feet high at the shoulders; its fur in summer is of a reddish-brown colour with a yellowish-white patch on the buttocks, in winter the fur is much thicker and of a grayish brown.

Wapiti Deer (Cervus canadensis) may be regarded as the representative of the stag in North America. It stands, however, a foot higher, and bears correspondingly heavier antlers. It occurs chiefly in Canada, where it feeds on grass and the young shoots of the willow and poplar. It has gained the reputation of being the most stupid of the cervine family, but this may have partly arisen from the peculiar noise it makes, corresponding to the " belling " of the stag, but in its case resembling very much the braying of an ass. Its flesh is coarse, and is held in little estimation by the Indians, owing to the excessive hardness of the fat. It thrives well in Britain, and would probably have been introduced had its venison been better.

Fallow Deer (Dama vulgaris), a species semi-domesticated in Britain, where it forms a principal ornament in parks, still occurs wild in Western Asia, North Africa, and Sardinia, and in prehistoric times appears to have abounded throughout Northern and Central Europe. It stands 3 feet high at the shoulders, and its antlers, which are cylindrical at the base, become palmated towards the extremity, the palmation showing itself in the third year, and the antlers reaching their full growth in the sixth. The fur is of a yellowish-brown colour (whence the name " fallow "), marked with white spots ; there is, how-ever, a uniformly brown variety found in Britain, and said to have been brought by James I. from Norway on account of its hardiness. The two varieties are said by Darwin to have been long kept together in the Forest of Dean, but have never been known to mingle. The bucks and does live apart except during the pairing season, and the doe produces one or two, and sometimes three fawns at a birth. They are exceedingly fond of music, and a herd of twenty bucks were, it is said, brought from Yorkshire to Hampton Court, led by music from a bagpipe aud violin. They feed on herbage, and are particularly fond of horse chestnuts, which the males endeavour to procure by striking at the branches with their antlers.

Roe Deer (Capreolus capra) is the smallest of the British Cervidce, a full-grown buck standing not more than 26 inches high at the shoulders. The antlers are short, upright, and deeply furrowed, and differ from those of the preceding species in the absence of a basal " tine." The horns, in this, as well as in the other members of the deer family, are largely employed in the manufacture of handles for cutlery, and the parings from these were formerly used in the preparation of ammonia, hence the name hartshorn still applied to that substance. The Roe Deer inhabits southern and temperate Europe as far east as Syria, where it frequents woods, preferring such as have a large growth of uuderwood, and are in the neighbourhood of culti-vated ground. This it visits in the evening in search of food; and where roes are numerous, the damage done to growing crops is considerable. In going to and from their feeding grounds they invariably follow the same track, and the sportsman takes advantage of this habit to waylay them. In hunting the roe the woods are driven by beaters, and they are shot down, as they speed along the accustomed paths, by the ambushed hunter. The species was until recently supposed to be monogamous, pairing in December, and the period of gestation only extending over five months. This supposition arose from the fact that the fcetus in the doe was never found till January, and that then it was but slightly developed, although the sexes were known to seek the society of each other in July and August, From the investigations of Professor Bischotf of Giessen it appears that the true rutting season of the Roe Deer is in July and August; but that the ovum lies dormant until December, when it begins to develop in the normal way; the period of gestation is thus extended to nearly nine months. It was formerly abundant in all the wooded parts of Great Britain, but was gradually driven out, until in Pennant's time it did not occur south of Perthshire. Since then the increase of plantations has led to its partial restoration in the south of Scotland and north of England. It takes readily to the water, and has been known to swim across lochs more than half a mile in breadth.

Elk or Moose Deer (Alces malchis) is the largest of living Cervidce, its shoulders being higher than those of the horse. Its head measures 2 feet in length, and its antlers, which are broadly palmated, often weigh from 50 to 60 lb ; the neck is consequently short and stout. It is covered with a thick coarse fur of a brownish colour, longest on the neck and throat. Its legs are long, and it is thus unable to feed close to the ground—for which reason it browses on the tops of low plants, the leaves of trees, and the tender shoots of the willow and birch. Its antlers attain their full length by the fifth year, but in after years they increase in breadth and in the number of branches, until fourteen of these are produced. Although spending a large part of their lives in forests they do not appear to suffer much in-convenience from the great expanse of their antlers. In making their way among trees, the horns are carried horizontally to prevent entanglement with the branches, and so skilful is the elk that " he will not break or touch a dead twig when walking quietly." His usual pace, according to Lloyd (Field Sports), is a shambling trot; but when frightened he goes at a tremendous gallop. The elk is a shy and timorous creature, fleeing at the sight of man This timidity, however, forsakes the male at the rutting season, and he will then attack whatever animal comes in his way. The antlers and hoofs are his principal weapons, and with a single blow from the latter he has been known to kill a wolf. In North America the moose is tormented in the hot season by mosquitoes, and it is when rendered furious by the attacks of those insects that it can be most readily approached. The female seldom gives birth to mors than two fawns, and with these she retires into the deepest recesses of the forest, the young remaining with her till their third year. The elk ranges over the whole of Northern Europe and Asia, as far south as East Prussia, the Caucasus, and North China, and over North America from the New England States westward to British Columbia. It was formerly common in the forests of Germany and France, and is still found in some parts of Sweden and Norway, where it is strictly protected. The elk, according to Lloyd, is easily domesticated, and was at one time employed in Sweden in drawing sledges. During winter it is frequently seen alone, but in summer and autumn it may be met with in small herds. In summer also it frequents morasses and low grounds, and takes readily to the water; in winter it retires to the shelter of the forests, where alone it can find suitable sustenance. Its flesh is considered excellent, and its tongue and nose are regarded as delicacies.

Reindeer (Tarandus rangifer), the only domesticated species of deer, has a range somewhat similar to the elk, extending over the entire boreal region of both hemispheres, from Greenland and Spitzbergen in the north to New Brunswick in the south. There are several well-marked varieties differing greatly in size, and in the form of the antlers—the largest forms occurring furthest north ; while by many writers the American reindeer, which has never been domesticated, is regarded as a distinct species. The antlers, which are long and branching, and considerably palmated, are present in both sexes, although in the female they are more slender and less branched than in the males. In the latter they appear at a much earlier age than in any other species of deer, and Darwin conjectures that in this circumstance a key to their exceptional appearance in the female may be found. The reindeer has long been domesticated in Scandinavia, and is of indispensable import-ance to the Lapland race, to whom it serves at once as a substitute for the horse, cow, sheep, and goat. As a beast of burden it is capable of drawing a weight of 300 Tb, while its fleetness and endurance are still more remarkable. Harnessed to a sledge it will travel without difficulty 100 miles a day over the frozen snow, its broad and deeply cleft hoofs being admirably adapted for travelling over such a surface. During summer the Lapland reindeer feeds chiefly on the young shoots of the willow and birch ; and as at this season migration to the coast seems necessary to the well-being of the species, the Laplander, with his family and herds, sojourns for several months in the neighbourhood of the sea. In winter its food consists chiefly of the reindeer moss and other lichens, which it makes use of its hoofs in seeking for beneath the snow. The wild reindeer grows to a much greater size than the tame breed, but in Northern Europe the former are being gradually reduced through the natives entrapping and domesticating them. The tame breed found in Northern Asia is much larger than the Lapland form, and is there used to ride on. There are two distinct varieties of the American reindeer—the Barren Ground Caribou, and the Woodland Caribou. The former, which is the larger and more widely distributed of the two, frequents in summer the shores of the Arctic Sea, retiring' to the woods in autumn to feed on the tree and other lichens. The latter occupies a very limited tract of woodland country, and, unlike the Barren Ground form, migrates southward in spring. The American reindeers travel in great herds, and being both unsuspicious and curious they fall ready victims to the bow and arrow or the cunning snare of the Indian, to whom their carcases form the chief source of food, clothing, tents, and tools. Remains of the reindeer are found in caves and other Post-Pliocene deposits as far south as the south of Prance, this boreal species having been enabled to spread over Southern Europe, owing to the access of cold during the glacial period. It appears to have continued to exist in Scotland down even to the 12 th century.

Muntjac (Cervulus vaginalis) has its two pronged horns placed on permanent bony pedestals 3 inches in length, and the male is further furnished with long canines in the upper jaw. It is a native of Java, where it may occasionally be seen in the inclosures of Europeans, but, according to Dr Horsfield, it is impatient of confinement, and not fit for the same degree of domestication as the stag. Its flesh forms excellent venison. There are four species of muntjacs inhabiting the forest districts from India to China, and southward to Java and the Philippine Islands.

Musk Deer (Moschus mosehiferus) differs from the true deer in the absence of horns, and in the presence of the musk-bag, and is now usually regarded as the type of a distinct family—Moschidm. The young, however, are spotted as in the Cervidce, and it is doubtful whether the differences already mentioned are sufficient to warrant its separation from the other deer. Canine teeth are present iu the upper and lower jaws of both sexes, those in the upper jaw of the male being longest. It is a native of the highlands of Central Asia from the Himalayas to Peking, being found at an elevation of 8000 feet, and in its habit resembling such mountain species as the chamois. It is exceedingly shy and difficult of approach, and is hunted solely for its musk—an unctuous brown secretion, posses-sing a most penetrating and enduring odour, extremely disagreeable when present in large quantities, but forming a pleasant perfume when used sparingly. The substance is contained in a bag, almost the size of a hen's egg, situated on the abdomen, and secreted in greatest quantity during the rutting season. The hunters cut off the bag, and close the opening, and after drying, it is ready for sale.

Fossil Deer.—Remains of many extinct species of deer belonging to existing genera have been found in Post- Pliocene and other recent deposits; while the remains of extinct genera occur in both hemispheres, but do not extend further back than the Upper Miocene. The deer family, so far as yet discovered, is thus of comparatively recent origin, and is probably, as Mr Wallace suggests, an Old World group, which during the Miocene period passed to North America and subsequently to the southern continent. The best preserved species of fossil deer is the gigantic Irish Elk (Cervus megaceros). It is not a true elk, but is intermediate between the fallow deer and reindeer, and is found in great abundance and perfection in the lake deposits of Ireland. It occurs also in the Isle of Man, in Scotland, and in some of the English caverns. The antlers of a specimen of this species in Dublin weigh about 80 lb, and their span is twice that of the living elk. It appears to have been contemporaneous with the extinct mammoth and rhinoceros, but it is still doubtful whether it co-existed with man. In Kent's Hole, near Torquay, the base of an antler, partly gnawed, was found ; and this, according to Owen, probably belonged to the most gigantic of our English cervine animals. (J. GI.)

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