What Big Ears You Have, Mule Deer!

by, Jo Carol Hebert

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These indigenous (native to the area) North American deer are named for their long ears. Their ears look like the donkey ears of the horse-donkey hybrid called the ‘Mule’. The Mule Deer has a full white tail with a black tip, which explains why some also call this deer – the ‘Black-tailed’ deer. (Not to be confused with the ‘White-tailed’ Cervid (deer) that has the bright white patch under the tail).  

Western North American Travelers

The Mule deer enjoys a variety of habitats along the western coastline of Baja, New Mexico up to the coastal islands of Alaska. They wander inland across the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, past the Missouri River and into the Yukon territory of Canada. 

Fast Food Stops Along the Way

Versatile eating habits go along with the versatile habitats that Mule deer enjoy. Because they are ‘browsers’, they eat off of trees, shrubs, and bushes. (“Grazers’ nibble only on the short ground grasses). And because deer are ‘ruminants’ (they can digest tough plant fiber), they consume whatever is available on the way.

Here is a list of some of the 788 plant items on the Mule Deer Fast Food Menu: skunk bush, sagebrush, prickly lettuce, buckthorn, dandelion, quaking’ aspen, pine, wild cherry, arrow leaf balsamroot, knotweed and smartweed, blue bunch wheatgrass, mushrooms nuts, berries and fruit.

Did You Know?

  • Mule deer do ‘pronking’/’pronging’,‘stotting’: bounding on straight, stiff legs with all four feet leaving the ground at the same time
  • Their eyes can pivot to see 310 degrees around (380 degrees is a full circle!)
  • Their sense of smell is 1,000 times more sensitive than humans
  • Mule Deer have no front teeth – only a hard top upper mouth
  • They can run fast and also do the ‘zig-zag’ thing to confuse predators
  • Their predators are gray wolf, brown and black bears, bobcats, coyotes, and people
  • A family of deer is male: buck; female: doe; and fawn: baby
  • The large buck weighs up to 300 pounds
  • Their antlers are up to 8-10 point and 4 feet across

A Roadway for Deer

The continued migrations of Mule Deer and all wildlife is important to the local peoples of their regions. Wildlife defenders are coming up with some very clever ways to facilitate human and wildlife cohabitation. The greatest danger to the future of deer is ‘habitat fragmentation’. Fences, roads, oil fields, mining operations are a few of the man-made hindrances to the normal migration of Mule Deer and other migratory wildlife. Legislation to conserve ‘migration corridors’ is being enacted by the states of Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming.

Wildlife Bridges?

And here is a really great innovation to keep animals on the move. Animals crossing highways are dangerous to people and the animals. So, clever people in areas vulnerable to this danger have come up with ‘animal crossing bridges’ across the highways. 

The Trans-Canada Highway Wildlife Crossing in Banff National Park in Alberta, pioneered this idea in 1987. Now, there are six animal highway crossings in the park, including bridges, tunnels, and special corridors. The innovators thought it might take a while for the animals to ‘catch on’ to this alternative route. But the ‘just as clever’ animals picked up on that idea right away and it works!  

Animals and people getting along – now that’s a winning combination!


Categories: Horns & Antlers

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