Wild South Florida — White-Tailed Deer
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White-tailed Deer

The story of the white-tailed deer, odocoileus virginianus, in Florida is like that of most large animals in the state: steady decline because of human activity, followed by a fairly rapid recovery as efforts to protect the species are begun. What's unusual about this deer is when the decline began — as far back as the18th century, when trading in hides began to take a toll on the population. Deer numbers bottomed out in the 1930s when an effort to wipe out the cattle feaver tick nearly wiped out the remaining deer in South Florida.

Conservation efforts begun in the 1940s and importation of deer from other parts of the U.S. have rebuilt the population to the point where hunters regularly take more than 100,000 deer a year.

deer herd

deer herd

Although the species is the same, Florida white-taileds tend to be smaller than deer found in other states. A typical doe will weight 95 pounds; a buck will go 125 pound. Florida Key deer, a subspecies, is even smaller. They can live up to 20 years, but six years is the usual. A doe requires a range of about a mile in order to find enough food to get her through the day; a buck about 2.5 miles. The range is smaller in the Everglades, where food is more plentiful.

They are vegetarians, digesting their meals through a series of four stomachs. In turn, they are prey for the Florida panther and bobcats.

Major threats to deer include automobile collissions, pesticides and hand-feeding by humans, believe it or not. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recently banned importation of deer into the state in order to prevent the spread of the deadly chronic wasting disease.

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