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Up and Down arrows will open main level menus and toggle through sub tier links. Enter and space open menus and escape closes them as well. Tab will move on to the next part of the site rather than go through menu items. This deer conservation guide is one in a series developed tly by MU Extension and the Missouri Department of Conservation. Antlers are among the most identifiable characteristics of species of the deer family, Cervidae, which comprises caribou, elk, moose, mule deer and white-tailed deer Figure 1.
Antlers have been prized and pursued by hunters for many centuries. Their rapid growth and deciduous regrown each year nature has made them fascinating for hunters and wildlife enthusiasts alike.
Within the past decade, many Missouri landowners have refocused their white-tailed deer management objectives to allow more male deer in the population the opportunity to reach older age classes and, thus, the potential to produce larger antlers. An understanding of the factors that control antler growth and implications on managing white-tailed deer populations is important to achieve these quality deer management objectives.
Figure 1. Male white-tailed deer grow a new set of antlers every year.
Antlers are bone formations that develop from the pedicle on the frontal bone of the skull of male deer. Figure 2 illustrates the basic terminology for parts of the antler. Pedicles become visible as buttons on males at about 4 to 5 months of age Figure 3. Deer grow and shed antlers every year, requiring large amounts of nutrients and energy. Typically, only male deer grow antlers. Female deer have been documented to grow antlers when experiencing issues with regulation of the hormone testosterone, which happens very rarely.
Caribou are the only deer in which females regularly grow antlers. The size and formation of antlers vary widely among deer in general. However, factors such as date of birth and condition of the mother can affect antler development. Figure 2. Deer antler terminology. Figure 3. Male white-tailed deer will often grow "buttons" as fawns.
Several theories attempt to explain the evolutionary purpose of antlers among some male members of the deer family.
Four of these theories are described below. al of male quality Because they are grown mainly by male deer, antlers are thought to serve as a visual cue aling health and genetic quality to female deer. If this were true, females could determine the quality of potential mates by evaluating their antlers.
Recent research supports this particular theory. However, variation in antler quality among individuals may not be a good predictor of mating success. To learn more about antler development and theories on the purpose of antlers, refer to the antlers chapter in Biology and Management of White-tailed Deer see Additional information. Weapon used to fight other males During the breeding season, male deer use their antlers to fight and establish dominance over other male deer. Male deer will often lock antlers and push one another to determine which individual is stronger, therefore establishing a dominance hierarchy between individual animals Figure 4.
Figure 4. Male white-tailed deer commonly establish dominance in the breeding season by fighting with other males to determine strength. Display dominance The size of antlers on deer has been thought to display age-related dominance between males without the males actually having to fight.
If this were so, a dominance hierarchy could be established within the male segment of the herd without the risk of serious injury or death. However, current research does not substantiate antler size correlating with dominance between individual white-tailed deer. Defense against predators Some researchers have suggested that deer may use antlers to defend themselves against predators, Adult singles dating in Antlers antlers can inflict severe injury. Although this theory may be true, it would mean that females are always defenseless and that males are defenseless once their antlers have shed and during the antler growing phase.
Deer grow and shed antlers annually. Males typically begin growing a new set of antlers in late spring.
Growth starts at the pedicle, which is the antler growing base attached to the skull see Figure 2. Antler growth is regulated by hormones, which are controlled by photoperiod day length.
The antler growth cycle coincides with the breeding season, so that males have hardened antlers for fighting other males, subsequently establishing dominance and breeding privileges Figure 5. Growing day length corresponds to a reduction in melatonin production, which initiates the hormone cycles responsible for antler growth.
Throughout late spring and summer, antlers are equipped with a very rich blood supply and are covered with a hairlike membrane commonly known as velvet Figure 6. Growing antlers are high in water and low in dry matter content. The composition of the dry matter portion during this stage is 80 percent protein and 20 percent ash primarily calcium and phosphorus. By August, growth slows and the antlers begin to mineralize, or harden. In late August or early September, growth is completed and blood ceases to flow to the antlers.
This process initiates drying of the velvet, which is then sloughed or rubbed off, resulting in polished, hard antlers during the breeding season. The velvet shedding occurs rapidly, usually in less than 24 hours. The velvet will fall off on its own, but the process is accelerated by rubbing antlers on small woody shrubs or even tall grass. Healthy males maintain their hardened antlers throughout the breeding season Figure 7. The composition of antlers change, as hardened antlers are high in dry matter and low in water content.
Dry matter content of hardened antlers is composed of about 60 percent ash and 40 percent protein. Timing of antler-drop may vary, but in an average season, some males shed their antlers in late December and most have shed them by early March. Once a deer sheds its antlers, new growth starts immediately, though visible antler growth is sometimes not apparent for several weeks. Shed antlers are often difficult to find in the woods because they have a high protein content and an abundance of calcium phosphate and Adult singles dating in Antlers quickly consumed by rodents.
Figure 5. White-tailed deer antler growth cycle coincides with the breeding season so antlers can be used as individual bucks establish dominance. Figure 6. Male white-tailed deer with antlers in the velvet stage. Figure 7. During fall and early winter after velvet is shed, male white-tailed deer will have hardened antlers. White-tailed deer may grow deformed antlers as a result of an injury. Leg, pedicle and velvet injuries can all lead to antler deformations. Depending on the type and severity of the injury, these antler deformations may be temporary or permanent.
Nontypical antler growth can be caused by genetic predisposition to abnormal branching, which is typically seen on both antlers. Pedicle injury Any injury to the pedicle may result in a deformed antler Figure 8. Injuries to the pedicle often are a result of fighting with other males or accidents. Populations with an abundance of older males may have a higher proportion of pedicle injuries because of the fighting that normally occurs between older males.
Severe injuries to the pedicle can result in antler deformations in consecutive years. Figure 8. Antlers that are shed normally have a relatively flat surface at the base awhereas antlers shed with pieces of pedicle attached b will often result in injury to the pedicle, one of three main causes of deformed antlers. Velvet injury As mentioned ly, during the growing phase antlers are very Adult singles dating in Antlers and, therefore, vulnerable to injury.
Some velvet injuries may result in an oddly bent antler caused by an injury during the velvet stage that was able to maintain its blood supply and hardened into a polished antler Figure 9. Extreme velvet injuries may cause the breakage and subsequent loss of a main beam, point or entire antler. Males that experience such injuries typically make a full recovery the following year and grow a normal set of antlers.Adult singles dating in Antlers
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