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So What Exactly Are Deer?
When I started to do a little research to answer this question, I thought this was going to be fairly simple. But with all the new DNA techniques that have been challenging the old classification systems, I should have known better.
First let's deal with the old classification:
Deer are included in the family Cervidae, that have traditionally been divided into four main groups (sub-families); New World Deer, Old World Deer, Muntjacs (Barking Deer) and Water Deer. Overall, there are about 40 species world-wide.
- Subfamily Muntiacinae (Muntjacs (Genus Muntiacus); AKA Barking Deer or Tusked Deer are native to India and South Asia, including Japan, Taiwan and Indonesia and the closely related Tufted Deer (Genus Elaphodus).
- Subfamily Cervinae (Old World Deer - European Red Deer, North American and Asian Elk and Sitka Deer Genus Cervus); Sambar (Rusa), Axis Deer (Axis) and Fallow Deer (Dama).
- Subfamily Hydropotinae (Water Deer) Chinese water deer (Hydropotes).
- Subfamily Odocoileinae (New World Deer) White-tailed and Mule Deer (Odocoileus), Brocket Deer (Mazama), Roe Deer (Capreolus), Pudu Deer (Pudu), Moose (Alces), Caribou and Reindeer (Rangifer).
New DNA evidence suggests that Deer Family should be divided into three subfamilies and six tribes (Gilberta et.al. 2006 and Ultimate Ugulate).
1. Subfamily Hydropotinae (Chinese Water Deer)
2. Subfamily Cervinae (traditionally most of the Old World Deer, New World Elk and Muntjacs)
- Tribe Cervini - (True Deer) - Genus Cervus (European Red Deer, North American and Asian Elk, Sitka Deer and also suggests changing Père David’s deer from Genus Elaphurus to Cervus). Genus Axis (Axis Deer), Genus Dama (Fallow Deer), and Genus Rucervus (Eld's Deer and changes the Barasinga from the genus Cervus to Rucervus).
- Tribe Muntiacini - Genus Muntiacus (Muntjacs) and Genus Elaphodus (Tufted Deer).
3. Subfamily Capreolinae (traditionally most of the New World Deer, Caribou, Moose and Roe Deer)
- Tribe Capreolini - Genus Capreolus (Roe Deer).
- Tribe Alceini - Genus Alces (Moose).
- Tribe Rangiferini - Genus Rangifer (Caribou and Reindeer)
- Tribe Odocoileini - (New World Deer), Genus Odocoileus (Mule Deer and White-tailed Deer, Genus Ozotoceros (Pampas Deer), Genus Blastocerus (Marsh Deer), many Mazama species of Brocket Deer, Genus Pudu (Pudu Deer), and Genus Hippocamelus (the Huemul (South Andean Deer) and the Taruca).
It is interesting that the old classification system included Moose with the New World Deer, but the ancestral Moose was from Asia. It is also assumed that Eurasian Red Deer came across the Bering land bridge, just as humans did, but many years before humans and have evolved into the North American Elk we see today. The ancestors of both species of North American Deer (Mule Deer and White-tailed Deer) also came from Asia since the late Miocene (ca 5.3 million years ago). Related ancestors then migrated into South American between two and three million years ago and evolved (adaptive radiation) into the many species found there today.
Classification Related to Deer:
Ungulates - refers to six to eight major groups of mammals that have hoofed feet. Deer are Ungulates of the order Cetartiodactyla.
Artiodactyla or Cetartiodactyla - refers to the Animal Order of even-toed ungulates to which deer belong. Artiodactyla is the formerly accepted name, and Cetariodactyla is the newly accepted name, which includes new DNA information that proved dolphins and whales belong to this Order.
Ruminants or Ruminantia - Sub Order of Cetartiodactyla that includes the Ruminant animals, which include deer, and separates them from the whales, camels and pigs. Ruminants refers to animals that ruminate or "chews cud". This physiological adaptation has allowed this group to become very successful, by allowing them to extract more nutrients and energy from poor quality food.
Rumination - involves fermentation of the food and a 4-chambered stomach to utilize microbes which have the ability to break down the cell walls of plants. Fermentation of the food occurs within the "first stomach" (rumen). Food is regurgitated and chewed again to break the food down into smaller and smaller pieces. Energy and nutrients are eventually extracted (primarily from digesting the microbes).
Cervidae - Family classification level - The Deer family, that separates deer from the other five families of Ruminants (Chevrotains, Musk Deer, Bovines, Pronghorn Antelope and Giraffs).
Antlers - are only found on deer family (Cervidae), so they are the defining characteristic of the deer family. Antlers are sometimes called racks or even incorrectly called horns (But we still love you Grandpa).
Stag- primarily refers to the male European Red Deer, but also can mean other male deer.
Buck - male deer or antelope or even rabbits.
Bull - usually refers to mature male bovine, but also refers to male elk.
Doe - refers to female deer, antelope or rabbit.
Cow - usually refers to mature female bovine, but is also be used for female elk.
Hart - refers to the male European Red Deer.
Hind- refers to the female European Red Deer
Fawn - refers to very young deer, especially those still with spots or are un-weaned.
Calf - usually refers to young bovines, but is also be used for young elk.
Herd - is a group of deer. I have also seen the term "mob" used, but that would seem more likely used in Australia, but Australia has no endemic deer species. I have also seen the terms "bevy" used for a group of Roe Deer and a "gang" used for a group of elk. I have also heard friends and family used various other terms when excitement took over, such as "Gob", "sloodle" and flock... and others that will not be mentioned.
Clément Gilberta, Anne Ropiqueta and Alexandre Hassanin. 2006. Mitochondrial and Nuclear Phylogenies of Cervidae (Mammalia, Ruminantia): Systematics, Morphology, and Biogeography. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. Volume 40, Issue 1, July 2006, Pages 101-117.