Interesting Facts About Deer for Kids
Do you know that deer are different from antelopes? Here are some interesting facts about the different types of deer, their habitat, characteristics, behaviour, diet and lifespan.
By Dr Shyam Kumar
Out of the mid-wood’s twilight
Into the meadow's dawn,
Ivory limbed and brown-eyed,
Flashes my Faun!
From ‘In the forest’ - A poem by Oscar Wilde
One of the most graceful and gentle creatures to roam the forests, the deer has endeared itself to humans since ancient times. This beautiful animal finds mention even in one of the oldest Indian epics, the Ramayana, where Sita requests Rama to bring her the golden deer which she saw roaming in the forest.
Even today, the deer is a favoured pet of many individuals in some countries, although this is not legal in India. Our article about deer facts will help your children develop interest in nature and affection for these animals. It will also educate them about the importance of conserving wildlife and forests.
Read in detail about the different types of deer, their diet, habitat, physical characteristics, and life span.
Facts about the deer family
The deer is a member of the Cervidae family. However, this family is divided into several sub-families like:
- Cervinae (elk, muntjacs, and tufted deer)
- Capreolinae (caribou, moose, roe deer, Pampas deer)
- Hydropotinae (Chinese water deer)
- Muntiacinae (barking deer)
- Odocoileinae (white-tailed deer, mule deer)
Types of deer
There are more than 50 species in the deer family, which includes the caribou, reindeer, elk (wapiti), chital, fallow deer, moose, white-tailed deer, red deer, sika deer, Visayan spotted deer, key deer, mule deer, mouse deer, musk deer — it’s a long list. But, we can learn something interesting about a few common species of deer found around the world.
1. Deer species worldwide
a) Moose deer facts
- The moose (Alces alces) is the largest species of deer in the world.
- They are commonly found in the north-eastern regions of North America, Canada, Alaska, northern Europe and Asia.
- They usually stay in the forests and wetlands under cold climatic conditions.
- The moose deer can grow up to 6.5 feet in height at the shoulders and can weigh around 800kg.
- Its coat is dark brown to black in colour and provides protection from the cold.
- The moose has a large bulbous nose with a flap of skin called a dewlap under the throat. In fact, this feature helps to differentiate it from the elk which is often confused with the moose.
- The antlers of the bull moose are broad and flat, and can spread 6 feet across.
- Its hooves are pointed and leave a heart-shaped mark in the mud.
- The moose are good swimmers and can run at over 56 km per hour.
- They have a poor eyesight but a good sense of smell and hearing.
- They are active during the day, more at dawn and dusk.
- Moose are solitary in nature and prefer to travel alone.
- Unlike the shy elk deer, they do not flee at the sight of humans. They are very territorial and can charge at someone approaching them.
- The common predators of the moose are bears and wolves.
- When attacked, the moose defends itself with its antlers and hooves.
- The cow moose protects its calves by kicking aggressively with its hooves as it lacks antlers.
- Moose are herbivores and prefer feeding on twigs, leaves and bark from hardwood trees and shrubs.
- They also consume aquatic plants growing in ponds and streams.
Lifespan: The moose has an average lifespan of 10 to 12 years, although some may even live up to 20 years.
Conservation status: The moose is listed under the Least Concern (LC) category in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
b) Elk deer facts
- The elk (Cervus canadensis), referred to as wapiti in Europe is a large deer found in the mountainous regions of western North America, and the forests and grasslands of Eastern Asia.
- ‘Wapiti’ in the Native American language means ‘pale-coloured deer’.
- The elk can grow up to 5 feet in height and can weigh up to 300kg.
- It has a reddish fur during the summer, but in the winter, the coat becomes thicker and appears light grey in colour.
- The elk has a short tail and a prominent light-coloured tuft on its rump.
- The males start growing large antlers in the spring and shed them during the winter. Each antler has 5 tines branching from the main stem and can grow up to 5 feet in length.
- Elks can move swiftly in the forest at speeds of up to 56 km per hour and can also swim well.
- They graze during the dawn and dusk and remain inactive during the rest of the day, preferring to chew cud.
- Unlike the moose, the elk are social and prefer to roam around in large herds. The herd is usually led by a female elk or cow and consists only of cows and their juvenile calves.
- The males and females graze together only at the beginning of the mating season and during winter.
- They are seasonal migrants, living in the mountainous regions during summer and migrating to lower elevations during winter.
- The common predators of the elk are bears, cougars, wolves and coyotes.
- They use their hooves and antlers to protect themselves when threatened.
- Also, herding together offers some protection from predators. On sensing danger, members of a herd raise the red flag by making hissing noises and grinding their teeth.
Diet: Elk primarily graze on grass but feed on all kinds of plants and shrubs including twigs, barks and leaves of trees (chokeberry, aspen, fir and juniper).
Lifespan: Elks have a lifespan ranging between 8 and 20 years.
Conservation status: The elk is listed under the Least Concern (LC) category in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
c) Reindeer facts
- The reindeer or caribou (Rangifer tarandus) are large-hoofed animals belonging to the deer family but are a different subspecies.
- Although native to North America, they are also found in Northern Europe and Asia.
- In North America, the term ‘caribou’ refers to wild reindeer.
- Caribou inhabit the harsh environment of the arctic tundra and subarctic regions.
- Reindeer weigh around 200kg and can grow up to a height of 5 feet.
- They have a thick coat which turns brown during the summer and grey during the winter.
- This is the only deer species where both males and females can grow antlers. Their antlers are the heaviest of all deer species in the world.
- In summer, the hooves of the reindeer turn spongy to give them extra grip on the surface. During winter the footpads shrink exposing the edges of the hooves allowing them to cut into the ice and snow to prevent from slipping.
- Reindeer have a very keen sense of smell. It helps them sense danger, find food and locate direction by picking up scents from the wind.
- They can sprint at a speed of up to 80 km per hour, and they are good swimmers as well.
- The reindeer move together in large herds, feeding together and traveling long distances in search of food during winter.
- During spring and summer, the size of a herd can swell to even 5,00,000 individuals. But, in the winter, the herds grow smaller.
- Predators include wolves, lynx and bear which usually target the calves.
- Reindeer can pick up the scent of a predator with their large nose and defend themselves using their antlers. They also run fast or move in herds to protect themselves.
- Reindeer eat the shoots and leaves of the larch, willow and birch trees. They also graze on ferns, herbs, moss and grass.
- During the winter, they eat lichen and fungi by scraping away the snow with their hooves.
Lifespan: Caribou can live up to the age of approximately 15 years in the wild, and 20 years in captivity.
Conservation status: The reindeer is listed under the Vulnerable (VU) category in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
d) Fallow deer facts
- The fallow deer (Dama dama) are medium to large-sized animals that are native to Europe but are also found in parts of the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
- They are often found in deciduous forests, mixed forests, marshes and woodlands.
- Fallow deer can survive in varied climates, ranging from cool and humid to warm and dry.
- The fallow deer can be easily identified by their prominent larynx or ‘Adam’s apple’.
- They have shorter forelegs, resulting in an elevated line of the back.
- A buck can weigh around 90 kg and usually grows up to 1m in height and 1.5m in length.
- The coat of the fallow deer varies in colour, from chestnut brown with white spotting on the flanks to pale (menil), black (melanistic) and white (albino).
- The antlers of the fallow deer can grow up to 60cm in length. The upper tines of the antlers fuse together to give them a large, flattened or palmate appearance.
- Fallow deer have extremely good vision. In fact, it is better than their sense of smell and hearing.
- They can run at a speed of up to 48 km per hour.
- Males and females of the species form separate herds, coming together only to mate.
- They are very agile and escape by running away from predators.
- The females let out a short barking sound on sensing danger. The bucks tend to growl during rutting (mating) season.
Diet: Fallow deer feed on grasses, shrubs, buds, flowering plants, herbs, shoots, leaves and bark.
Lifespan: A fallow deer’s lifespan varies between 8 and 10 years, although some may live up to 16 years.
Conservation status: Fallow deer are classified as Least Concern (LC) in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
e) Water deer facts
- The water deer (Hydropotes inermis) is small in size and is native to China and Korea.
- There are two subspecies: Chinese water deer and Korean water deer.
- This species of deer generally inhabit swamps, marshlands or live alongside rivers where they can hide in the tall reeds and bushes.
- The males stand 50cm (20 inches) tall at the shoulder and weigh up to 15kg.
- The male of the species lack antlers. Instead, they have upper canines that protrude like fangs out of their mouth.
- The coat is thick and reddish brown with the undersides being white in colour.
- Water deer do not prefer forming herds and are usually found in pairs or alone.
- The bucks are extremely territorial and mark their area with urine and faeces. They usually confront each other with their tusks.
- Natural predators of the water deer are tigers and leopards.
- On sensing a threat, they scatter with a characteristic rabbit-like hop. They emit a shrill barking sound to warn others of danger.
Diet: The water deer eats reeds, vegetables, coarse grass and other vegetation. It also consumes lots of water.
Lifespan: The average lifespan of a water deer is 12 years.
Conservation status: Water deer are listed as Vulnerable (VU) in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
f) Pudu deer facts
- The pudu is the smallest species of deer in the world.
- The Northern Pudu (Pudu mephistophiles) and Southern Pudu (Pudu pudu) are found in the dense forests of South America, specifically in countries with a warm climate like Peru, Argentina and Chile.
- The pudu is cute in appearance with a fur that is reddish brown to dark brown in colour.
- A fully grown pudu measures only up to a foot and a half in height and weighs a maximum of 14kg.
- The males have small, spiked antlers which are not forked.
- The pudu generally lives a solitary life, except during mating and raising their young.
- It marks its territory by leaving huge piles of dung everywhere.
- It generally prefers to stay in the dense underbrush and bamboo thickets, and only comes out in the open to feed.
- The pudu can sprint, jump and climb very well due to its small size.
- It barks on sensing a threat and runs in a zig-zag pattern when pursued by a predator.
Diet: Its diet usually consists of fresh leaves from low trees, tree bark, kale, grains, hay, carrots, succulent sprouts, shrubs, ferns, herbs, buds, blossoms and fallen fruit.
Lifespan: The approximate lifespan of the pudu deer is between 8 and 10 years in the wild.
Conservation status: The Southern Pudu is listed as Near Threatened (NT) in the IUCNRed List of Threatened Species.
2. Deer species in the Indian subcontinent
a) Chital deer facts
- The chital (Axis axis), also called the spotted deer or Axis deer, is one of the most common species of deer found in the forests of India and Sri Lanka.
- They prefer to live in dense forests, grasslands and areas of thick vegetation.
- It stands 90−95cm tall at the shoulder and weighs around 60kg.
- The antlers of the male chital can grow up to 100cm long and contain 3 tines.
- It has a spotted coat which is reddish brown in colour with a whitish shade on the undersides of the body.
- The chital deer are social animals and live in herds having 100 or more members.
- They are active and forage during the evenings and early mornings. In the noon, they like to rest in the shade.
- They graze silently but are always on the lookout for predators.
- On sensing danger, a chital lets out small barks to warn the others.
- They have a strong sense of smell and can run at a top speed of 60 km per hour.
- The common predators of the chital are Bengal tigers, leopards, lions, pythons, crocodiles, wild dogs and wolves.
- The chital are herbivores and eat grass, flowers, fruits, sedges and mushrooms.
- They tend to browse (feeding on soft shoots, fruits or leaves of high-growing plants) only when grass is not readily available.
Lifespan: The chital has a lifespan of 9−11 years.
Conservation status: The chital is listed under the Least Concern (LC) category in The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
b) Swamp deer facts
- The Indian barasingha (Rucervus duvaucelii) or swamp deer is a medium-sized deer which is usually seen in the swamps, marshy grasslands, river floodplains, mangroves, forests and meadows of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Assam.
- The barasingha can grow up to a height of 130cm and weigh up to 180kg.
- The coat has an orange or brown colour to it.
- Barasingha, the term for swamp deer in Hindi, means 12-antlered deer as the antlers of the deer can grow up to 80cm long and may have 12 points.
- The barasingha move around in herds of 20 or more members led by a female.
- They are active throughout the day except during the noon.
- They are excellent swimmers and good jumpers, and can run at speeds of up to 50 km per hour.
- The main predators of the barasingha are the leopard and tiger.
- When alarmed, they make shrill and loud baying sounds.
- A newborn fawn has spots on its coat which provide camouflage protecting it from predators.
Diet: Barasingha graze largely on grass, leaves and aquatic plants. They drink water twice or thrice a day.
Lifespan: They can live up to 20 years of age.
Conservation status: The barasingha is considered a Vulnerable (VU) species by the IUCN.
c) Sambar deer facts
- The sambar (Rusa unicolor) is one of the largest deer and is native to the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and South China.
- They are usually found in the forested hillsides but also inhabit swamps, thick forests and open grasslands.
- Sambar deer can grow up to 65 inches in height and an adult sambar deer can weigh around 350kg.
- The coat is yellowish or light brown to dark brown in colour.
- The bucks grow a mane on the neck.
- The antlers are stout and rugged with 3 tines.
- Sambar deer are usually nocturnal animals. They gather in large numbers near water sources.
- They are good swimmers and can run at great speeds to escape predators.
- They also have a good sense of smell and hearing.
- The sambar makes short, high-pitched barking sounds and stamps its feet when alarmed.
- The main predators of the sambar deer are tigers, leopards, wolves, crocodiles and dholes.
Diet: Sambar deer eat grass, foliage, fruits, buds, berries as well as leaves, stems and the bark of various trees.
Lifespan: Sambar deer have an average lifespan between 24 and 26 years.
Conservation status: These animals are listed as Vulnerable (VU) in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
d) Barking deer facts
- Also known as the Indian muntjac, southern red muntjac and Mastreani deer, barking deer (Muntiacus muntjac) are small in size and native to South and Southeast Asia.
- Muntjac deer are commonly found in areas of dense vegetation, rainforests and hillsides.
- An adult weighs 15−35kg and grows to a height of about 60cm.
- The male muntjac deer has small unbranched antlers whereas the female has bony prominences on the head covered with tufts of fur.
- They have elongated canine teeth or tusks which are prominent in the males.
- The coat has a brownish or greyish appearance and is soft and dense. It is whitish on the undersides of the body.
- These are solitary and nocturnal creatures but occasionally form a herd of 4 or 5 individuals. They prefer to live near water sources.
- The males are not very aggressive, although they show territorial behaviour. Males often fight with each other during the mating season.
- On sensing a potential threat, the barking deer lets out a barking sound to warn other muntjacs.
- The usual predators of the muntjac are leopards, tigers, crocodiles, and pythons.
Diet: The barking deer is omnivorous and eats plants, grass and fruits as well as bird’s eggs, small animals and carrion.
Lifespan: The Indian muntjac deer has a lifespan of 15−20 years.
Conservation status: The Indian muntjac deer is considered a species of Least Concern (LC) by the IUCN.
e) Musk deer facts
- The Himalayan musk deer (Moschus leucogaster) or white-bellied musk deer is a small deer which lives in the forested mountainous regions of the Himalayas, particularly within India, Nepal, Bhutan and China.
- The musk deer weighs 12−18 kg and stands about 20−25 inches tall.
- Unlike deer of other species, the male lacks antlers, has long canines, a gall bladder and a musk producing gland in the abdomen with which it attracts females during the rutting season.
- The thick insulated coat of the musk deer protects it from extreme temperatures. It is sandy brown in colour.
- The hooves are dew-shaped and broad to provide stability while climbing up steep slopes.
- The musk deer are shy, secretive and solitary by nature.
- They become active during the dusk and night when they come out to feed on shrubs and tree leaves. During the day, they tend to hide in areas with dense vegetation. So, they are rarely seen in open areas.
- They are very territorial, and males often fight each other using their sharp canines to inflict injury.
- When frightened, they can jump as high as 6m. This helps them evade slow-moving predators.
- They have a very sharp sense of smell and hearing and let out a loud double hissing sound when alarmed.
- The common predators of the musk deer are fox, wolf and lynx.
- Since the musk deer inhabits the mountainous terrain, its diet consists of vegetation typical of alpine environment.
- They eat mainly grass, shoots, twigs, leaves, flowers, and moss and lichen.
Lifespan: The Himalayan musk deer can live up to 10 to 14 years in the wild.
Conservation status: The musk deer is an endangered species as it is poached for the musk (Kasturi in Hindi) which is used in perfumes and medicines. It is considered as Endangered (EN) by the IUCN.
Deer reproduction − mating behaviour in deer
- Most of the species in the deer family have similar mating habits.
- Deer generally mate during the months of October to January and this period is called the ‘rut’. Although most of them are polygynous (a single male mating with multiple females), some species like the European Roe deer are monogamous.
- The dominant males are the ones with well-developed and symmetrical antlers which they use to attract the females.
- During the rutting season, the males often get into fights with rival males to establish their right to mate with the females.
- The gestation period for deer range between 6 and 8 months based on their size.
Baby deer facts
- Generally, the doe gives birth to one fawn, but occasionally it can be two or three at a time. Once the fawn is born, the doe separates from the herd and tends to the young one.
- The newborn can stand on its feet and walk within 20 minutes to 1 hour after birth.
- The fawn stays close to its mother who nurses it for a period of two or more months. During this time, they hide in areas with thick vegetation to be safe from predators.
- It takes a year for the young one to mature and join the herd or live on its own.
Interesting facts about the deer
- The word deer originated from the English word ‘deor’ which means a four-legged animal.
- The term for an adult deer is hart. The male of the species is called buck or stag and the female deer is called hind or doe. The young ones of the deer are called fawn.
- The antlers of a deer are the fastest growing living tissue on earth. They can grow up to an inch in a day.
- The male deer sheds its antlers each year and grows new ones.
- Reindeer is the only deer species in which both males and females have antlers.
- Most of the deer are very good swimmers and can jump to a height of 6 feet.
- A deer fawn has very little body odour, which helps it evade detection by predators.
- All species of deer have a four-chambered stomach which allows them to chew the cud.
- A deer can view 310 degrees as their eyes are on the sides of their head.
- Moose is the world’s largest species of deer and the Southern pudu is the smallest.
- The water deer are also called ‘vampire deer’ due to their fangs.
- Deer is almost non-existent in Africa with only one native species of deer called the Barbary stag.
- Based on traditional folklore, eight reindeer pull a sleigh through the night sky to help Santa Claus deliver gifts to children on Christmas Eve.
Deer vs antelope
- The deer (family: Cervidae) is different from an antelope which is a member of the Bovidae family.
- The horns of the deer are deciduous (shed annually) and branched, whereas antelopes have permanent horns that do not branch.
- Springbok, impala and black buck are antelopes.
Of the more than 50 subspecies of deer in the world, close to 23 species are listed as endangered. Particularly, the Red deer found in Scotland and the Key deer in Florida are two subspecies of deer that are in danger of extinction.
For decades, forests have been taken over due to the expansion of human dwellings and commercial activities, thus encroaching into deer territory. Even though many deer species have good numbers, the likelihood of decreasing food supplies and the loss of habitat from forest fires and pollution can be causes for concern for the vulnerable deer species.
- In India, the swamp deer or Barasingha once considered close to extinction, have risen in numbers following successful breeding programmes and conservation efforts.
- The state animal of Manipur, the Sangai or brow-antlered deer is a rare and endangered deer found only in the marshy wetlands of Loktak lake in Manipur.
- The state animal of Uttarakhand, the Himalayan musk deer is listed as an endangered species.
National parks in India where deer are found
The Barasingha can be found in the following national parks –
- Kanha National Park - Madhya Pradesh
- Kaziranga National Park – Assam
- Manas National Park – Assam
- Dudhwa National Park – Uttar Pradesh
- The Kashmir stag or hangul, the only subspecies of wapiti native to India, is found in –
- The Dachigam National Park in Jammu and Kashmir
- The endangered Himalayan musk deer are found in –
- Kedarnath Wild Life Sanctuary, also known as the Kedarnath Musk Deer Sanctuary
Deer in films & literature
Movies on deer:
- Bambi, based on the 1923 book, ‘Bambi, a Life in the Woods’ by Felix Salten
- The Yearling, Based on the 1938 book, ‘The Yearling’ by Marjorie K Rawlings
- Fern, The Red Deer, 1976
- Open Season, 2006
- The Private Life of Deer – (nature documentary)
Books on deer:
- Deer, Moose, Elk and Caribou - by children’s author, Deborah Hodge
- Lightfoot the Deer – by Thornton W. Burgess
Around the world, the deer population is decreasing because of poaching, agriculture, human development, road accidents and other reasons. We hope our article about deer facts also helps you understand the need for deer conservation, and encourages you to extend a helping hand in efforts to save the deer.
If you found this article to be interesting and informative, why not share your comments with us?
About the author:
Written by Dr Shyam Kumar on 6 December 2019
The author holds a degree in Homoeopathy with an MBA in Hospital Management and has worked across multiple disciplines including healthcare and technology. As a nature lover, he attended the world's first underwater CEO's conference to combat marine pollution.
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