Deer—Creatures of Grace and Beauty
DEER are animals of outstanding grace and beauty. Large, peaceful eyes peer from the sides of the creature’s head. The short, shiny hair lies flat and, therefore, contributes to the deer’s streamlined appearance. Whether standing motionless, running or jumping, this slim, long-legged creature never looks awkward or out of place.
The antlers are definitely a distinguishing feature of deer. Usually only the males or stags have them. But in the case of reindeer and caribou, antlers crown the heads of both the male and the female. By contrast, Chinese water deer and the Asiatic musk deer have none.
Unlike horns, which are actually hard layers of skin, antlers are bones. Deer inhabiting the temperate zones shed them in the winter and, in the early summer, begin to grow new ones. As for deer in tropical areas, antlers may be shed and new ones start growing at other times of the year.
New antlers are soft and covered with thin skin, from which short, fine hair grows. This skin, with its fine hair, is known as “velvet.” Eventually blood stops circulating through the skin covering the antlers. When this occurs the skin dries up and the deer scrapes it off on the ground or against trees or shrubs.
The younger the stag, the shorter and smaller will be the antlers. The animal may grow its first set of antlers at the age of one or two years.
Just what purpose do antlers serve? Many naturalists believe that they are mainly used in fighting for mates and also play a role in establishing the stag’s rank. It should be noted, however, that stags lacking antlers have no problem in being recognized by their juniors as occupying a superior rank. There are also indications that in serious battles the antlers play an insignificant part. So there may well be other reasons for the deer’s antlers.
Commenting on a current theory, The International Wildlife Encyclopedia states: “Observations on red deer show that they appear to suffer from heat in the summer. They are active at night and spend a considerable time wallowing. Stonehouse’s theory is that the antlers act as radiators in the summer as the velvet is richly supplied with blood vessels and measurements show that the temperature of the antler surface rises when the stags are active. During the summer when the stags are feeding they lay down a thick layer of fat, so some means of getting rid of heat is needed. Hinds do not need such radiators as sufficient energy is expended by the developing foetus and whilst suckling. Antlers are awkwardly shaped for either fighting or signalling so this theory seems to offer a more reasonable explanation of their function, with the antlers being used secondarily for fighting and signalling.”—Vol. 14, p. 1928.
The jumping ability and swiftness of deer are most remarkable. Strong muscles in the upper part of the deer’s legs enable it to make tremendous leaps and to run quickly. A mule deer may cover the distance of twenty-five feet (7.6 meters) in one great bound. This deer can also jump to a height of about eight feet (2.4 meters) and run at a rate of thirty-five miles (56 kilometers) an hour. White-tailed deer have been known to jump forty feet (12 meters), and the maximum long jump is thought to be even greater.
Since deer are such swift, graceful animals, little wonder that the beautiful Shulammite said of her lover: “My dear one is resembling a gazelle or the young of the stags.” “Run away, my dear one, and make yourself like a gazelle or like a young one of the stags.”—Song of Sol. 2:9; 8:14.