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White-Tailed Deer
Odocoileus virginianus
white tailed deer
White-Tailed Deer, photographed at Jonathan Dickenson State Park, Hobe Sound, Martin County, in May 2014.

The story of the white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus, in Florida is like that of many animals in the state: steady decline because of human exploitation, followed by recovery as efforts to protect the species are begun.

What's unusual about this deer is when the decline began — as far back as the 18th 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 as the population sustains itself. Globally, white-tailed deer are considered "least concern" on the IUCN extinction scale.

White-tailed deers are the smallest member of North America's deer family. Their natural range extends from southern Canada to parts of South America. Although the species is the same, Florida white-taileds tend to be smaller than deer found in other parts of the United States. A typical Florida doe will weigh 95 pounds and stand 32 inches tall; a buck will go 125 pound and hit 36 inches. By comparison white-tailed deer elsewhere might stand six feet or more and weigh as much as 300 pounds. The Florida Key deer, a subspecies, is even smaller. In fact, there are four separate subspecies of white-taile deer in Florida.

The small size of Florida deer has several advantages. They don't have to eat as much to regulate their temperature in the Sunshine State's warm, subtropical climate. And it helps in places where the soil might not be as fertile and quality browse might be low.

deer herd

White-tailed deer 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.

Deer are vegetarians, digesting their meals through a series of four stomachs. In turn, they are prey for the Florida panther and bobcats. The one advantage they have over their enemies is speed: they can hit the clock at 30 mph while running through the tangles of a forest. They're also good swimmers, which they'll use to stay alive.

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.

Photographs by David Sedore
deer herd
Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without their express permission.