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Antlered Does

So based on some of the comments on yesterday's painting, it occurs to me that some of you may not be familiar with the phenomenon of antlered does!

Eeee! You get to be among today's lucky 10,000! This is so COOL!

So it turns out that antlered does are actually not that uncommon in whitetail deer. My guess--and this is only a guess--is that they're probably found in a lot of species where the males have antlers and the females mostly don't,* we're just particularly aware of it in whitetails because they're a super-common game animal in the US AND hunters in most areas are only supposed to take bucks,** so you get a good amount of reporting on the subject when a hunter drags in a deer and says "Look, I saw antlers, but this is NOT a buck!" (So far as I know the DNR does not yell at anyone about accidentally taking a doe when it's obviously got a rack of antlers on it--it's the definition of an honest mistake.) The DNR says that it also happens in mule deer and blacktail deer, anyhow.

You find variable numbers on this, but based on the deer herd culls and the hunting records, the Minnesota DNR think you get about one antlered doe per 1,000-6,000 whitetail does. Apparently there was a study in Alberta, Canada, that had a population throwing an antlered doe at a rate of about 1 per 64 does, which is much higher than anyone expected, but I don't know any of the details.

Most of the time, these aren't very impressive antlers--they're just spikes, like you get in young bucks--and they're caused by a biologically female deer having a testosterone spike, for all the various reasons that can happen, which are as varied in deer as they are in humans. One source claimed that in a biologically female deer, the antlers generally won't go out of velvet (apparently that requires a second hormone spike) but here we are getting beyond the limits of what I can say authoritatively about deer biology. Either way, most of those does don't have very big racks, and the ones that do tend to have very weird racks--they'll be asymmetric and they'll keep growing in weird shapes or whatever, so you can get thirty-point does because they never get the hormone surge that shuts off growth.

(Weird antlers happen in biologically male deer too, of course--any time you get a process that complicated, things occasionally go haywire.)

Some deer, however--another source estimated 1 in 20,000 does--are either true hermaphrodites or "pseudo-hermaphrodites," in this case having female external genitalia and male internal organs, and these deer will grow a full-on rack of polished antlers that lose velvet and everything and which are often not distinguishable from a standard whitetail rack.

As with anything involving sex organs, there does seem to be an enormous range--I've always found antlered does fascinating and have been reading about them for years, so I've read cases where you'll get does that have a rack and fawns at the same time, does with antlers that mount other does and even keep and defend harems. There's some minor sexual dimorphism in whitetails around the head and neck, and you get antlered does on both sides of that spectrum. There is a LOT of variation.

At any rate, other than the minor inconvenience of having to burn calcium growing antlers, none of this seems particularly detrimental to the does. Hunters usually describe them as being perfectly healthy when taken, and in the majority, they're still breeding successfully, so it's just one of those nifty things that happens in nature sometimes.

Anyway, that's antlered does! Isn't that cool?

(Someday I will do something with the antlered doe character I had kicking around in my head for years, but I'm still not sure how her story should go...)

*Actually, I suspect this sort of thing happens with most species, it's just that when you've got a really clear marker like antlers, AND in a species that has a major economic impact, people actually notice and study it.

**I have Very Strong Feelings about this from an environmental perspective, but that's another topic and today we're talking about a REALLY COOL THING! so we won't spoil it.

Article where most of those figures came from

I have been edumaficated! Thanks! ^_^

I had always figured up to now that it was just artistic license when people put antlers on presumed female cervine types.

In reindeer, both the males and females grow antlers. I don't know of any other species in which this is true (as the default vs. as a rare happenstance).

I just thought she was a reindeer because I'd imagine an anthropomorphic reindeer lady to be heavy-bodied like that. :)

That is seriously cool! I've never heard of that. Thank you for sharing!!

In NH, our game laws specify "antlered" vs "unantlered" deer (antlered deer must have at least one antler over three inches in length to be legal) instead of buck vs doe and has different seasons for each which vary from year to year based on what the state biologist determines is most beneficial to our deer population. (Also only bearded turkeys are allowed to be taken in the spring to avoid killing hens who might be brooding, since beards in turkeys, like antlers in deer, tend to be a good general-purpose marker for "male.")

Ditto Maine, at least on deer.
(I didn't know there WERE laws regulating wild turkeys, which [my impression is] are a relatively recent re-immigrant.)

Thanks for the interesting article on antlered does. That's nifty!

This is a good example of why yours is one of the most popular LJ journals. (Usually the most popular, but we all know that varies.)

"Testosterone spike"

In caribou, of course, the does all naturally grow antlers. So those "eight tiny reindeer" pulling Santa's sleigh really could all be female.

Most likely are, since the males usually lose their antlers in Nov/Dec while the females keep theirs until spring. :)

Gender queer deer.

I am deeply pleased by this.

Me too, since I've been vaguely trying to come up with a genderqueer deer t-shirt design for months. I thought I'd go with one antler...

This was interesting.

Even if it did make me think of a comment which, if made, can only get me into trouble, concerning females of another species, and how many have racks.

Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the forebrain.

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It's been a while since I read the comic, but I'm pretty sure SueDeer is officially 1/4 reindeer.

My initial reaction to the painting was along the lines of "Well, if we're blending species, there's no reason we can't blend sexes, too; this is fantasy, after all." But I should have recalled that ursulav's fantasy tends to be deeply and interestingly grounded in real zoology. So I'm glad to be among today's ten thousand.

I do find it interesting that most viewers (myself included) seem to be seeing the figure as "doe-woman with antlers" rather than "hart-man with breasts." (After all, human sexual dimorphism is also pretty variable.)

There's more visual markers for "human female" than just the breasts. There's factors like the slope of the shoulders, the shape of the torso, the proportion of the hips, and the distribution of body fat. None of them necessarily dictate female, but when you start getting enough of them, they make assumptions based on them a bit more reliable. At least, when we're talking about physiology and not gender identity, which is an entirely different can of worms.

Given that a small number of human women can grow beards, I am entirely unsurprised that a small number of female deer can grow antlers. It's just that human women with beards tend to remove them...

And, in fact, women with facial hair are a lot more common than most people believe. Of my five girlfriends (in succession, not all at the same time), two have been able to grow facial hair at one time in their lives, but subsequently had it all lasered off.

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My reaction to the subject line was
Antlered is as antlered does

Must admit, I knew most of this already, but it's really cool that you actually think about this stuff. Art is one thing, art with science behind it... now that's cool!!

One of the many reasons why I love Ursula so gosh darn much.

This was so fascinating and informative.