White-Tailed Deer—All-American Athletes
I’d never seen anything like it. As our car approached a four-way stop, we
saw a white-tailed deer standing at the corner. It looked both ways and, when
the street was clear, calmly made its way across the crosswalk. I wish all the
deer in our neighborhood would learn that trick.
Though my family lives in the suburbs, we still catch glimpses of this incredible
natural athlete browsing near the edge of a field or darting across the road.
Usually the deer that gets hit by a car is not the furtive leader but a less-watchful
follower. So we’ve learned to slow down, glance in the direction that the first
deer darted from, and wait for others to cross safely.
I’ve loved these fleet-footed beauties since childhood, and my wonder has only
grown deeper as I’ve studied them as a veterinarian.
Dressed for Success
White-tailed deer have been reported to jump fences
over 8 feet tall.
These are the most common large wild mammals in the Americas. They can be found
from southern Canada, throughout most of the United States, down to Central
America, and even into parts of South America. Their extensive range is a direct result
of their amazing adaptability. They are able to live in a variety of habitats,
from the forests of the northeastern U.S. to the swamps of Florida, from farmlands
to desolate desert.
One of the keys to any athlete’s success is appropriate clothing. God understood
this when He designed the deer’s coat. Most of the coat of a white-tailed deer
is a reddish brown in the summer, turning to a thicker gray-brown in fall and
winter. These colors help it hide.
Fawns have white spots on their reddish brown backs. These spots look uncannily
like sunlight hitting the ground after it filters through the trees. The color
pattern serves as excellent camouflage, making fawns nearly invisible as they
lie still on the forest floor.
White hairs cover the underside of the deer’s tail. These remain out of sight
until the deer flees, when the tail is held up like a flag, flashing a silent
warning to other deer—danger! This unique behavior gives the species the distinct
appearance that inspired its name.
The Grace and Appetite of an Athlete
Deer are stunningly fleet-footed, agile athletes. They can sprint at the same
speed as a car whizzing through the neighborhood—around 35–40 mph (55–65 km/h).
If needed, they can maintain speeds of 25 mph (40 km/h) for several miles, even
through forest thickets. (The fastest marathon runner could only achieve a mere
No athlete is complete without proper equipment. A buck’s antlers
show off his health and aid in competitions between bucks.
The white-tail can gracefully jump tall fences and leap long distances. A normal
adult deer can leap 30 feet (9 m), farther than the longest leap ever recorded
by a human (29.4 feet [9 m]). They are even good swimmers.
White-tailed deer have an unusual diet for athletes. Instead of the easily
digestible diets we associate with humans, they enjoy buds, twigs, and leaves,
as well as seeds and grass.
This diet requires a special design for their bodies to break down the tough
plant food. Deer are ruminants (their stomachs have four chambers). In the first
and largest chamber, the rumen, bacteria break down the tough plant material
that would be otherwise indigestible.
A low-quality diet means that deer must eat a lot, but they don’t always have
time to properly chew the food because of predators. So God equipped deer to
eat and run. They can swallow food quickly, and later, when they are resting
in a safe place, they bring the food back up to the mouth and rechew it so the
bacteria can more easily digest it. This is known as chewing cud.
No athlete is complete without equipment, be it bat, cleats, or head-gear.
Bucks (male deer) grow antlers. Large antlers show off their health and good
breeding to the ladies. Antlers also aid in competition between bucks. Like
football players butting helmets, deer will butt each other over and over again
to see who can last the longest. These fights determine who gets the pretty
doe (female deer).
These amazing bony structures begin to grow in the spring. The antlers are
initially covered by a type of skin called velvet, which itself is covered with
soft hairs. The velvet contains blood vessels to supply nutrients to the rapidly
growing antlers, which can add half an inch in a single day. In the late summer
or fall, antler growth stops. In the winter, breeding season ends, antlers are
shed, and the whole process repeats.
Be it running or butting or jumping, white-tailed deer are the ultimate athletes.
Beautiful and fleet of foot, they excel any humans. God holds deer up as examples
of the speed and agility that we can enjoy in our walk with Him. “He makes my
feet like the feet of deer, and sets me on my high places” (Psalm 18:33).
Did You Know?
- Antlers are different from the horns of cattle and sheep because they
are shed annually and are usually forked. (Horns are permanent and unbranched.)
Unlike horns, antlers are solid bone and lack the keratin sheath found with
- Deer have been reported to jump fences over 8 feet tall, although this
is not common. Generally, a 6-foot fence is enough to discourage most deer
from jumping. Certain kinds of mesh fences also deter deer; supposedly they
have difficulty seeing where the fence ends and sky begins.
- Some deer carry a mutation that causes a piebald pattern, where large
white areas appear instead of the normal brown coat. A doe generally gives
birth to twins in the spring; the fawns weigh 5–8 pounds at birth.
- At the end of the summer, the fawns molt (shed old hair to make way for
new growth) and lose their spots. They then have the same color patterns
as the adults’ winter coat.
- Unlike most ruminants, deer lack a gall bladder.
- The first two chambers of a deer’s stomach help with the initial digestion
and cud storing. The third chamber, the omasum, absorbs from the food some
of the water and minerals that the deer needs. Finally, the abomasum, the
last chamber, functions like our own stomachs.
ORDER: Artiodactyla (even-toed hoof)
SIZE: Adults are 2.5 to 3 feet (1 m) tall
at the shoulder and weigh 125 to 300
pounds (56 to 135 kg).
DIET: Varies with habitat—anything from
new growth on trees to leaves, grass,
crops, ornamental plants, and cacti
HABITAT: Forests, swamps, farmland,
suburban areas, and deserts
SourceThis article originally appeared on answersingenesis.org