Posts Tagged ‘water deer’

Reeves’s muntjac is native to China and Taiwan. It is not native any place in Europe, but one of the places where it has been introduced is England. The epicenter of their population in that country is Bedfordshire, where this hunt takes place.  The Dukes of Bedford were into promoting deer on their estate, Woburn Abbey, and they were instrumental in saving the Pere David’s deer from extinction. One suggestion is that the muntjac in England derived from Reeves’s muntjac that escaped Woburn Abbey, but they also could have derived from escapees from the Whipsnade Zoo.

Whatever their origin, Reeves’s muntjac have established themselves a long way from their native territory, and they do quite a bit of damage to trees.

And what usually happens is that people are encouraged to hunt the invasives, but as you can see from the selective shooting that goes on this video, the species is now being managed as a sort of game species on many estates. This development should be of no surprise, and it should be noted that island of Great Britain has only two native deer species, the red and the roe. The very common fallow deer was introduced by the Romans and then again the Normans from the European continent.

But the fallow deer is essentially managed as a native game species. The exact same thing is done with Sika deer that have been introduced to Maryland. White-tailed deer are treated the same way in the Czech Republic, as are all the deer that have been introduced to New Zealand.

Whatever their treatment as a game or invasive species, this video does provide a nice closeup of the male Reeves’s muntjac as a specimen. Of particular note are the tusks, which they use for fighting and display.  It is mentioned in this clip that they are “musk deer, ” but this is in error.

This error comes from the tusks that both muntjac and musk deer possess, but musk deer are placed in their own family (Moschidae).  True deer are Cervidae, and all the muntjac species are true deer that fall into the Cervinae subfamily (which includes red deer, fallow deer, and North American elk).  However, they are primitive Cervinae.

Musk deer differ in some morphological characters from true deer in that they don’t have facial glands, possess only a single pair of teats, and have a gallbladder.  They also never have antlers, and all species possess a scent gland on their tail.

The common ancestor of musk and true deer, though, had prominent tusks. The modern muntjac species is unique in that it still has those fangs of the earliest Cervinae.

The other true deer that is known for its tusks is the Asian water deer, which was definitely introduced to Britain thanks to escapees from Woburn Abbey. But it is not closely related to the muntjac at all.

It is also not a musk deer, even though it has much more prominent tusks than the muntjac and never has antlers. Instead, it fits within Capreolinae, the subfamily of deer that includes roe deer, moose, reindeer/caribou, and all the New World deer but the wapiti. Its prominent tusks and lack of antlers are a also primitive trait in this lineage of deer.

That muntjac and water deer are both fanged shows that more primitive animals will resemble each other more the derived forms of their respective lineages.

These cnine teeth are celebrated in North America elk lore. Their “ivory” is taken as almost as much a trophy as the antlers, and indigenous people in Canada and the US used them as jewelry. They aren’t sharp daggers like those found on muntjac and water deer, though. They are just vestigial teeth that show that the ancestor of the great bugling bull were once little fanged creatures.

These upper canines also appear in white-tailed deer on occasion as an atavism.

Beyond these little fangs, North American deer lack these primitive traits, so I find fangs on these Asian species totally fascinating.

They are windows into the past, when deer were just little beasts of the undergrowth.


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From left to right: Siberian musk deer (which isn't a true deer), Reeves's muntjac, and a Western roe deer.

The notion of tusked deer is a bit foreign to North Americans, but people living in the UK will know that two small deer that were introduced from Asia, the Reeves’s muntjac and the Chinese water deer, actually possess sharp canine teeth.

It is thought that the ancestral deer was very similar to the so-called musk deer of Asia.  Musk deer have several features that true deer lack, and one of the most notable is their lack of antlers.  Musk deer have very well-developed canine teeth, and they look almost like saber-tooth cat crossed with a deer.

Musk deer are solitary animals, and if they meet, they use these long canine teeth on each other.

Just as it is the male true deer that typically have the antlers, it is the male musk deer who have the really impressive canine teeth.

The reason why it is thought that modern deer were much like musk deer is that many smaller species of deer in which the males possess impressive canine teeth.

The water deer of Asia has the long canine teeth, and neither sex has antlers. Water deer can form small groups, but they are less social than other true deer.

Reeves’s muntjac, which is native to temperate parts of Asia, has smaller canine teeth than a musk deer, and the bucks have antlers.  These antlers are quite small compared to other species of deer, and they use them primarily as a way of knocking their opponents off balance. After they knock their opponents off balance, they use their canine teeth on them.

Most modern deer have lost their canine teeth entirely. The antler has become the primary weapon.

But before deer had antlers, they had fangs.

And some still have them today.

The species we call reindeer or caribou (depending upon location and whether one is wild or domestic) probably could have had some use out of fangs.  Both sexes of caribou/reindeer possess antlers, which they use against each other.  It is thought that this species of arctic deer developed this trait– which is normally a trait of sexual dimorphism in other species– in order to give the females better tools to fight off other deer when the foraging gets tough in the winter.  Antlers take a lot of energy and nutrients to grow every year, so as weapons, they are pretty costly to the animal. Fangs really aren’t that costly, and they have them all the time.

Deer likely evolved super ornate antlers as a result of sexual selection.  The females are just more attracted to males with more ornate head weapons.

Caribou evolved from deer that had gone down this evolutionary road, so the trait of both sexes possessing antlers had to be built out of that lineage.

So female caribou have to devote energy and nutrients into growing antlers and into feeding their offspring. No other female deer has this problem.

That’s a major tax on any animal.

Ah, yes, we have another example of why intelligent design is crap.

And intelligent designer would have given caribou fangs.

But I don’t think Rudolph would be all that cute if he had the dentition of a saber-toothed cat!


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