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Basic Facts About Mule Deer

By Edited Nov 20, 2015 0 0

What's the best place to start with Mule deer essentials? As long as we touch on the main points it doesn't matter where we begin, so we may as well start with taxonomy. Taxonomy is the way an animal or plant is classified scientifically. It is based on a common structure: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species. Usually animals and plants are identified by the last two divisions, genus and species.

Mule Deer Taxonomy

Mule deer are taxonomically classified like this:

Species:Odocoileus hemionus

Cervidae is the Latin name for all members of the deer family, from Mule Deer to chital, roe, red and fallow deer, and including moose, elk and caribou as wellOdocoileus means “hollow tooth”; the genus has two members, the mule deer and the whitetail deer.  The Odocoileus genus occurs only in North America.  Hemionus means “mule”, and serves as the species name.

There are at least ten sub-species of mule deer occurring in North America:

O. h. californicus - California mule deer
O. h. cerrosensis - Cedros/Cerros Island mule deer (Cedros Island)
O. h. eremicus - Desert/burro mule deer (northwest Mexico and Arizona)
O. h. fuliginatus - Southern mule deer (southernmost California and Baja California)
O. h. hemionus - Rocky Mountain mule deer (western and central North America)
O. h. inyoensis - Inyo mule deer (Sierra Nevada, California)
O. h. peninsulae - Peninsula mule deer (Baja California Sur)
O. h. sheldoni - Tiburon Island mule deer (Tiburon Island)
O. h. columbianus - Black-tailed deer (Pacific Northwest and Northern California regions)
O. h. sitkensis - Sitka black-tailed deer (coastal area and islands off western British Columbia)

Range and Habitat

Mule deer range covers most of western North America, from Mexico in the south to northern Canada. They range from the alpine all the way to sea level, provided there is a water source available. Habitat considerations include security, forage and thermal protection. For this reason transitional areas that can provide forage while also providing close by escape routes are preferred. Winter kill can have a huge impact on populations, which is why thermal protection is so important.  What we mean by thermal protection is mature stands of timber that protect the animals from strong winds and deep snow.

Reproduction and the Rut

The rut, or breeding period, generally occurs in November and December, although the exact timing varies by location and sub-species. There are at least two breeding cycles during the rut.  Does that are bred in the first cycle drop out of the rotation, and unbred does come into a second estrus later in the rut. Gestation lasts approximately 203 days, and the fawns are born in late may and early June.  There are usually twins, but fawn mortality can be very high.

Mule deer are characterized by their large ears, black tail and forked antlers. In addition to the large ears which led to the name "Mule deer", some sub-species are called "Blacktails" because of their black tails. Large body size is also typical of Mule deer, although not in all locations or sub-species. The ears are quite large, especially in comparison to a whitetail deer. Their tails are black, and smaller than a whitetail’s. Their rumps are white, however, which can be misleading. The antlers of the bucks fork once they've left the main beam. This is quite distinct from whitetail racks, which have one main beam that all tines come off of. In terms of size the biggest mule deer are bigger than the biggest whitetail. On the other hand, coastal blacktails are much smaller than the average whitetail.
Mule deer buck and doe


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