Living Organisms / Animalia / Craniata / Mammalia / Artiodactyla / Cervidae / Odocoileus / Species
Odocoileus hemionus - Mule deer (Click photographs/illustrations: full picture & further details)
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INFORMATION AVAILABLE

The information in subject headings below has been incorporated to support various Wildpro Volumes and is not complete. Further detailed information will be added when a Deer Health and Management, or similar, Wildpro Volume is completed.

GENERAL & REFERENCES

APPEARANCE / MORPHOLOGY

LIFE STAGES / NATURAL DIET / PHYSIOLOGY

BEHAVIOUR

HABITAT & RANGE

CONSERVATION

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General and References

Alternative Names (Synonyms)

  • Black-tailed deer. (B51)
  • Odocoileus columbianus - Columbian deer (B58)
  • Cerf mulet (French). (B299)
  • Cerf mulet ŕ queue noire (French) (B299)
  • Maultierhirsche ((B299))
  • Schwarzwedel-Hirsche (German) (B299)
  • Ciervo mula (Spanish) (B299)

See Odocoileus page for alternative genus names.

Alternative species names (the second part of the binomial species names): [Genus] auritus, [Genus] californicus, [Genus] canus, [Genus] cerrosensis, [Genus] columbianus, [Genus] crooki, [Genus] eremicus, [Genus] fuliginatus, [Genus] inyoensis, [Genus] lewisii, [Genus] macrotis, [Genus] montanus, [Genus] peninsulae, [Genus] punctulatus, [Genus] pusilla, [Genus] richardsoni, [Genus] scaphiotus, [Genus] sheldoni, [Genus] sitkensis, (B141)

Called "black-tailed deer" in north-west Pacific coastal areas of their range. (B299)

Eleven subspecies listed (B299):

  • Mule deer Odocoileus hemionus hemionus (Rafinesque), 1817
  • Columbian black-tailed deer or Coast deer Odocoileus hemionus columbianus (Richandson), 1829
  • California mule deer Odocoileus hemionus californicus (Caton), 1876
  • Desert mule deer Odocoileus hemionus crooki (Mearns), 1897
  • Burro (Mule) deer Odocoileus hemionus eremicus (Mearns), 1897
  • Sitka (black-tailed) deer Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis Merriam, 1898
  • Peninsula mule deer Odocoileus hemionus peninsulae (Lydekker), 1897
  • Cedros (Cerros) Island mule deer Odocoileus hemionus cerrosensis Merriam, 1989
  • Inyo mule deer Odocoileus hemionusinyoensis Cowan, 1933
  • Southern mule deer Odocoileus hemionus fuliginatus Cowan, 1933
  • Tiburón Island mule deer Odocoileus hemionus sheldoni Goldman, 1939

Some authorities question the validity of some of the subspecies (B300.10.w10)

Names for new-borns / juveniles

Fawn. (B180)
Names for males Buck. (B180)
Names for females Doe. (B180)

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General Appearance

Medium-sized deer with a stocky body, long, slim but sturdy legs and long ears. General colouration of upper parts reddish or yellowish brown in summer, greyish in winter, with lower parts cream to tan and inside of legs, throat patch, rump patch and inside of ears whitish, tail black tipped. (B180

Similar Species

Odocoileus virginianus - White-tailed deer - White-tailed deer: tail is not black tipped and antlers of buck have only one main beam. (B180)

Distinguished from Odocoileus virginianus - White-tailed deer by: tail (relatively short, dorsally white or black with a black tip), antlers branching into two nearly equal parts with a short sub-basal snag, ear length 2/3 to 3/4 of head length, deep preorbital (lachrimal pit (23mm deep), metatarsal gland more than 70mm long. (B147)

Sexual Dimorphism  

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References

Species Author

Debra Bourne

Major References

Husbandry references:

ORGANISATIONS
(UK Contacts)

 

ELECTRONIC LIBRARY
(Further Reading)
Click image for full contents list of ELECTRONIC LIBRARY

  •  

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TAXA Group (where information has been collated for an entire group on a modular basis)

Parent Group

  • Deer (Cervidae)

Specific Needs Group referenced in Management Techniques

  • Deer (Cervidae)

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Husbandry Information

Notes

--
Individual Techniques linked in Wildpro

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Appearance / Morphology

Measurement & Weight

Length
  • 1.16-1.99 m / 3 ft 10 inches - 7ft 6 inches. (B180)
  • In general those subspecies inhabiting colder areas are larger than those in warmer locations. (B299)
Height
  • 90-105 cm / 3 ft - 3ft 5 inches. (B180)
  • Males about 1m at the shoulder. (B147)
  • Mule deer buck about 102cm/40 inches at the shoulder; coastal black-taild buck about 86-94 cm / 34-37 inches. (B299)
  • In general those subspecies inhabiting colder areas are larger than those in warmer locations. (B299)
Adult weight General In general those subspecies inhabiting colder areas are larger than those in warmer locations. (B299)
Male 50-215 kg / 110-475 lb. (B180); 75-150kg. (B147); 
  • Mule deer 114-136 kg (250-300 lb). (B299)
  • Coastal black-tailed deer buck average 64-68 kg (140-150 lb), less in the southern part of the range (56 kg / 123 lb). (B299)
  • Exceptional individuals of Odocoileus hemionus hemionus may reach 213 kg (470 lb). (B299)
Female 32-73 kg / 70-160 lb. (B180)
New-born weight 3.6 kg / 8 lb. (B180);  about 1.5-3.5kg. (B147)
Growth rate --

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Head

General

Skull

Antlers: Shed January to March, begin growing April or May, lose velvet August or September. (B147)

  • Widespread and dichotomous - tines are an arrangement of even forks rather than a main branch with tines growing from it. Typically short upright brow tines and double forks on either side to make the individual a "ten-pointer"; in black-tailed often only eight tines, lacking the third main tine. Number of tines may be doubled or trebled in abnormal antlers. (B299)
  • Basal snag is generally shorter than in Odocoileus virginianus - White-tailed deer and there is no basal snag on the two-tined antlers of an immature buck (while this does develop in the second-year of the Odocoileus virginianus - White-tailed deer).(B299)
  • Shed January to March (older bucks shed first), new growth underway about march to April. Antlers clean of velvet in older bucks by late August/early September. (B299)

Nose:

Ears: 12-15 cm (4.5-9 inches) long. Constantly moving. (B180)

Dentition (Teeth)

I 0/3, C 0/1, PM 3/3, M 3/3 (B147)

Eyes --

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Legs and Tracks

Tracks: Shape of tracks like narrow spilt hears, narrow end forwards. Prints about 80 mm/ 3 1/4 inches long for males, 60 mm / 2 3/8 inches long for females, walking stride about 550-600 mm / 22-24 inches. (B180)

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Tail

  • Length: 11.4-23cm/4.5-9 inches. (B180)

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Coat / Pelage

Adult Female Shades of red/brown/grey. (B299)

Summer coat: Upperparts reddish brown (B147); rusty red or tan. (B299)

Winter coat:

  • Winter upperparts brownish grey, underparts paler. Hairs tubular, stiff and brittle. (B147)
  • Individual hairs have black tips and rings. (B299)
  • Belly, medial (inner) surface of legs, and caudal patch are white. (B299)
  • Throat and face whitish; forehead has a black patch, chin has a black bar. (B299)
  • Tail white, rounded, with a black tip. (B299)
Variations (If present)
  • Black-tailed deer: dorsal (outer) surface of tail blackish or brownish. (B180, B299)

  • Albinism is "not uncommon" in black-tailed deer; it has been reported from several States. (B299)

  • A piebald buck is known (museum specimen). (B299)

  • Summer coat is lightest in Peninsula mule deer Odocoileus hemionus peninsulae. (B299)

Moult
  • Spring moult: May. (B299)
  • Autumn moult: August. (B299)
New-born / Juvenile

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Neonate (New-born) Characteristics

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Detailed Anatomy Notes
(Summary information provided for pertinent species-specific data cross-referenced in Wildpro)

Scent glands:
  • Glands on the hind legs above the hooves; these appear to be used in scent recognition of the doe by the fawn. (B180)
  • Long hairs around the scent glands; hairs become erect during aggressive confrontations between bucks. (B180)

Digestive: Rumen about 10% of body weight; alimentary canal about 24 m (15 times body length). (B300.10.w10)

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Life Stages / Natural Diet / Physiology

Reproductive Stages

Breeding Season
  • Autumn to early winter. (B180)
  • Mating October to January (peak November) in North America, with births April to September. (B147)
  • Rut late September to about mid-November. (B299)
Oestrus / Ovulation
  • Seasonally polyoestrous, oestrus cycle about 28 days, oestrus lasts about 24 hours. (B147)
Gestation / Pregnancy
  • Six to seven months. (B180)
  • Usually 195-212 days. (B147)
  • About seven months - usually 200-208 days, range 183-218 days. (B299)
Parturition / Birth
  • Birth June to August. (B180)
  • Most born in June; exceptionally early births may occur in April and exceptionally late births in late July. (B299)
Neonatal development
  • Remain concealed ("hider") for about one month. (B180)
  • Able to stand after a few hours.(B147)
  • Left hidden in dense vegetation for about the first month, nursed about every four hours. (B147)
  • Nibble on vegetation when only a few days old.(B147)
  • Able to run by three weeks.(B147)
  • Usually weaned by about four months old.(B147)
Litter size
  • One or two; yearlings produce one fawn, older does generally produce twins. (B180)
  • First litter usually a single fawn, thereafter two, occasionally three or even four. (B147)
  • Twins are common, triplets are born occasionally. (B299)
Time between Litters / Litters per year
  • Sexual maturity within first year, although most reports indicate mating generally first occurs during the second year. (B147)
Lactation / Milk Production
  • Usually weaned by about four months old.(B147)
Sexual Maturity  
Longevity
  • Longevity in wild: rarely more than 10 years, or 4.5 years in regularly hunted areas. (B147)
  • Record 20 years (wild), 22 years (semicaptive). (B147)

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Natural Diet

Grass, weeds. shrubs, twigs, mushrooms, nuts lichens. (B147)
  • Summer: Mainly herbaceous plants, also blackberry, huckleberry, salal, thimbleberry.(B180)
  • Winter: brows taken includes "twigs of Douglas fir, cedar, yew, aspen, willow, dogwood, serviceberry, juniper and sage."(B180)
  • Also eats acorns and apples. (B180)

Highly opportunistic and variable between regions; preferred items in one area may be avoided in another. (B300.10.w10)

  • Eat living, dead or dying and wilted dry vegetation. (B300.10.w10)
  • Always have "green food" in the diet. (B300.10.w10)
  • Utilise water plants in spring, naturally cured plants in late summer, evergreens in winter. (B300.10.w10)
  • In deserts eat succulent lobes of prickly pear cacti. (B300.10.w10)
  • In hot deserts with sparse vegetation can manage with reaching free-standing water relatively rarely, although they cannot manage long periods without any water. (B300.10.w10)

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Detailed Physiology Notes
(Summary information provided for pertinent species-specific data cross-referenced in Wildpro)

Temperature --
Pulse --
Respiration --
Faeces  
Haematology / Biochemistry --
Chromosomes  
Other  

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Behaviour

Feeding Behaviour

  • Browser, but in summer predominantly a grazer.(B147)

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Parental Behaviour

  • Doe leaves fawn hidden for first month after birth and returns regularly to allow suckling. (B180)

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Social Behaviour / Territoriality

Intra-specific
  • Does may be seen with a fawn or twin fawns and sometimes also with a pair of yearlings. (B180)
    • Females may stay with their mother for two years but males generally leave at one year old. (B147)
  • Does commonly fight when they meet. (B180)
  • Does are facultatively territorial around parturition. Does with fawns tend to remain separate from other females, while those without fawns tend to form bands. (B300.10.w10)
  • Black-tailed deer may form group territories, defended by both sexes. (B300.10.w10)
  • Bucks are often solitary but may be seen in groups both before and after the rutting season.(B180)
  • Home ranges of bucks are larger than those of does. (B180)
  • Both males and females may leave their normal home range during the rutting season. (B180)
  • Often form herds, rarely large, in winter. (B180)
  • Basic social unit includes a doe, her yearling daughter, and the fawn(s) of this year. although several females may form a lasting association in an area. (B147)
  • Males may be found alone or in small groups for most of the year. (B147)
    • In male groups a dominance hierarchy is maintained by aggressive postures and stares, rearing and flailing with the forefeet, and chases. (B147)
  • In winter deer (all ages and sexes) may aggregate in favourable areas, an activity called yarding; this is generally more organised in Odocoileus hemionus than Odocoileus virginiatus, and with larger groups formed. (B147)
  • Population densities recorded 5-50 per square km. (B147)
  • Home range is generally of an elongated shape, containing a good variety of food, water and cover; the size is variable, may generally be in the region of 24.3-137.6 hectares for females, 97.1-365.1 hectares for males, not including migratory routes. (B147)
    • On the Great Plains female ranges of 3,379 hectares have been recorded. (B147)
Inter-specific --

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Sexual Behaviour

  • Polygamous. A buck may mate with most does in his area; does probably mate with several bucks. (B180)
  • Encounters between bucks in the rutting season often consist of displays and threats but sometime fights occur; injuries rarely occur.(B180)
  • Males rub facial scent glands against vegetation also urinate into scrapes below marked bushes and trees. (B147)
  • Ritualised combat with initial displays then, if neither retreats, antlers are lowered, the males charge, lock antlets and push and twist until one is driven back; this usually is of short duratiion, 15-30 seconds. (B147)
  • A male associates with a single doe until he mates her (or is displaced by another male). (B147)

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Predation in Wild

  • Mountain lions and wolves, also bobcats and bears. (B180)
  • Juveniles may be taken by coyotes. (B180)
  • The puma Puma concolor may be the most proficient predator; also wolves, coyotes, feral dogs. (B300.10.w10)

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Activity Patterns

  • Gait is stiff-legged and bounding, with back and front legs moving together. (B180)

  • Good swimmer. (B180)

  • Walk cautiously, bound away from danger, can run at 64 km/hr, swim very well. (B147)

  • Use the "stott" when escaping from predators. This may confuse the scent trail as well as allowing instant changes in direction. Allows a speed of about 30-50 km/hr. (B300.10.w10)

  • In groups, may chase small dogs and cats, even larger cats (e.g. cougar). (B300.10.w10)

Vocalisations:

  • Grunts and snorts, low grunts by females to their young. (B147)

  • Bucks: in the rut repeated low, short strained bleats, with a grunting bellow or bark on approach of an aggressor. Also bellows in the rut. (B299)

  • Does: bark (any time of year), bellows (in the rut). (B299)

Circadian
  • Mainly crepuscular: most active in the morning and evening, and on moonlit nights.(B180)
  • In winter may be seen active even at midday. (B180)
  • Most active at dawn and dusk. (B147)

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Habitat and Range

General Habitat Type

  • Mixed: forest edges, mountains, foothills. (B180)
  • Preferred habitats contain sufficient vegetation for concealment but are not too dense. (B147)
  • Variable from high mountains to plains and deserts. (B299)

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Nests / Burrows / Shelters

--

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Distribution and Movement (Migration etc.)

Normal
  • Wide range over the western part of North America from Mexico in the south well into Canada in the north. (B299)
  • "Southern Alaska - West and central America - Northern Mexico.". (B51)
  • "Baja California and Sonora to Northern Tamaulipas (Mexico); Western USA (to Minesota); Western Canada; Alaskan Panhandle (USA). Introduced to Kauai (Hawaiian Islands) and Argentina".(B141)
  • From Southern Yukon and the western Northwest Territorries (Mackenzie district) in the north to Wisconsin in the east and south to Texas. (B180)
  • Southern Yukon and Manitoba south to Baja California and northern Mexico. (B147)

Most of western North America. Southern limit of range of mule deer is central Mexico, northern range reaches about latitude 65°N, in southern Alaska and the Great Slave Lake of the Northern Territories of Canada. (B299)

Black-tailed deer are found along the Pacific coast from southern Alaska to northern California with Odocoileus hemionus columbianus (southern race) from south-west British Columbia and Vancouver Island along the coast southwards through washington and Oregon into north-west California. (B299)

Subspecific ranges have been listed as (B299):

  • Mule deer Odocoileus hemionus hemionus - West and central North America
  • Columbian black-tailed deer or Coast deer Odocoileus hemionus columbianus - British Columbia to northern California
  • California mule deer Odocoileus hemionus californicus - Mid-California
  • Desert mule deer Odocoileus hemionus crooki - North Mexico
  • Burro (Mule) deer Odocoileus hemionus eremicus - North-west Mexico and Arizona
  • Sitka (black-tailed) deer Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis Coastal area and islands off British Columbia and Alaska
  • Peninsula mule deer Odocoileus hemionus peninsulae - Baja California
  • Cedros (Cerros) Island mule deer Odocoileus hemionus cerrosensis - Cerros Island, Baja California
  • Inyo mule deer Odocoileus hemionus inyoensis - California
  • Southern mule deer Odocoileus hemionus fuliginatus - California
  • Tiburón Island mule deer Odocoileus hemionus sheldoni - Tiburón Island

(B299)

Migration: I

  • In mountainous areas, seasonal movements (up and down the mountains) to avoid heavy snows.(B180)
    • Ascends to 2,300 m / 7,380 ft in summer, favouring south-facing slopes.(B299)
    • Winters in valleys. (B299)
  • Migrate in autumn, about 10-50 km, to lower altitudes or areas of good winter food supplies.(B147)

Young animals may disperse 10-200 km from natal range. (B147)

Occasional and Accidental  
Introduced
  • Successfully introduced to Hawaii (1961). (B299)
  • Attempts to introduce to New Zealand have been unsuccessful. (B299)

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Conservation

Intraspecific variation

Black-tailed deer - Odocoileus hemionus columbianus.

Odocoileus hemionus cerrosensis. (B147)

Eleven subspecies listed (B299):

  • Mule deer Odocoileus hemionus hemionus (Rafinesque), 1817
  • Columbian black-tailed deer or Coast deer Odocoileus hemionus columbianus (Richandson), 1829
  • California mule deer Odocoileus hemionus californicus (Caton), 1876
  • Desert mule deer Odocoileus hemionus crooki (Mearns), 1897
  • Burro (Mule) deer Odocoileus hemionus eremicus (Mearns), 1897
  • Sitka (black-tailed) deer Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis Merriam, 1898
  • Peninsula mule deer Odocoileus hemionus peninsulae (Lydekker), 1897
  • Cedros (Cerros) Island mule deer Odocoileus hemionus cerrosensis Merriam, 1989
  • Inyo mule deer Odocoileus hemionusinyoensis Cowan, 1933
  • Southern mule deer Odocoileus hemionus fuliginatus Cowan, 1933
  • Tiburón Island mule deer Odocoileus hemionus sheldoni Goldman, 1939

(B299)

In general those subspecies inhabiting colder areas are larger than those in warmer locations. (B299)

Subspecific interbreeding occurs where the range of the two subspecies Odocoileus hemionus hemionus (Rocky Mountain mule deer) and the Californian mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus californicus) overlap. (B299)

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Conservation Status

Wild Population -
(Importance)
  • IUCN Listing 1991 - (B51): Rare in part of range.
  • Can damage crops and timber. (B180)
  • Hybridization with Odocoileus virginianus - White-tailed deer in the wild has been reported.(B147)
  • Subspecies Odocoileus hemionus cerrosensis is endangered. Found only on a small island off Baja California. Threatened by illegal hunting and habitat burning. Estimated population in 1986 of 300 individuals. (B147)
  • Population in the USA about three million. (B299)

Hybridize successfully with Odocoileus virginianus - White-tailed deer. (B299)

Hybridization usually occurs with a male Odocoileus virginianus - White-tailed deer and a female Odocoileus hemionus. (B300.10.w10)

Hybrids appear not to survive well in the wild (a few hybrid fawns and yearlings are seen but older hybrids are seen only exceptionally) and it is thought that this may be due to incompatible anti-predator strategies between the two species, with hybrids neither galloping rapidly away like white-tailed deer nor stotting effectively like mule deer, but hopping in inefficient slow bounds, and also tended to be inquisitive on approach of a predator rather than either being aggressive or fleeing. (B300.10.w10)

General Legislation  
CITES listing  
Red-data book listing  
Threats
  • Hunting. Exterminated from much of their range prior to enforcement of regulations. (B147)
  • Hunter kills now are about 1 million per year, with a total population of at about 5.5 million. (B147)
  • Collisions with vehicles: road traffic accidents kill large numbers of deer yearly. (B147)
Captive Populations  
Trade  

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