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(deer), a family of mammals of the order Artiodactyla. The graceful animals have long, slender legs, a short tail, and long mobile ears. The males usually bear branched antlers, which are shed annually and regrown in the spring; the only members of the deer family whose females have antlers are the reindeer. During the growing period the antlers have a velvety skin covering; the skin later dries and is rubbed off. The pelage consists of coarse hair and soft underfur. The animals are most often reddish yellow or reddish brown; the young and some adults are spotted.
There are 17 genera of Cervidae, embracing about 40 species, distributed in Europe, Asia, North Africa, and North and South America. Six species are found in the USSR. These include three species of the genus Cervus—the red deer (Cervus elaphus), the Japanese deer (C. nippon), and the fallow deer (C. dama). The three remaining species, each from genera containing a single species, are the roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), the elk (Alces alces), and the reindeer (Rangifer tarandus).
Deer inhabit forests, forest tundras, tundras, and mountain forests. They generally live in small groups, but in the autumn and winter they gather in huge herds of thousands of individuals and make a migration of hundreds of kilometers. Deer feed on various grasses and the leaves and shoots of shrubs and trees; some species feed on moss, lichens (reindeer), and tree bark.
Sexual maturity is usually reached at the age of 1½ years. Mating occurs in autumn or at year’s end. By mating time, the male’s antlers have usually lost their skin covering. The males become aroused, bellow, and fight among themselves for possession of a harem. One or two young are born in the spring or early summer. The female nurses the young until the onset of a new pregnancy. Deer molt once a year, in the spring; some species molt twice annually.
All modern species of deer belong to the following four subfamilies: Muntiacinae, Hydropotinae, Cervinae, and Neocervinae (also Odocoileinae). The Muntiacinae comprise two genera, the Muntiacus and the Elaphodus; the latter genus has a single species, the tufted deer (E. cephalophus). The Hydropotinae include a single species, the Chinese water deer (Hydropotes inermis). Species of the subfamily Cervinae are found in northern Africa, Eurasia, and North America. The Neocervinae are encountered in northern Eurasia and in North and South America. Sometimes a fifth subfamily, the Moschinae, are included in the family Cervidae; it includes the musk deer (Moschus moschiferus).
All types of deer are hunted commercially. However, owing to the rapid decline in their numbers, certain species are now partially or completely protected from hunting.
REFERENCESFlerov, K. K. Kabargi i oleni. Moscow-Leningrad, 1952. (Fauna SSSR: Mlekopitaiushchie, vol. 1, part 2.)
Sokolov, I. I. Kopytnye zveri. Moscow-Leningrad, 1959. (Fauna SSSR:
Mlekopitaiushchie, vol. 1, part 3.) Mlekopitaiushchie Sovetskogo Soiuza, vol. 1. Edited by V. G. Geptner and N. P. Naumov. Moscow, 1961.
I. I. SOKOLOV