Friday, March 12, 2010

Oh Deer!

I went to the Ecology Center this morning to check the nestboxes in the woods and came across this deer skeleton.

My Photographer's eye and Naturalists' curiosity went into overdrive and I spent quite a bit of time examining each bone and "posing" some of the more interesting pieces. Naturally the deer's skull caught my attention first.

Deers have antlers, not horns. Horns are composed mainly of keratin and grow continuously, whereas antlers are made of bone and are shed yearly. Deer shed their antlers sometime in January and begin growing new ones in early spring. Those antlers will grow 1-2" weekly until fall. Those growing antlers are covered in velvet, which contain blood vessels and nerve endings and once the antlers stop growing, the velvet dies and begins to peel. The adult buck will help this process along and rub the velvet off those antlers within a day or two.

The eyes of a deer are interesting as well.

The eyes are located on the side of the head providing the deer with 310 degree vision. This wide angle view of things allows the deer to be aware of its surroundings, even when he is staring straight ahead. The disadvantage to this is that the deer cannot focus on one object or location with both eyes and has poor depth perception. Deer have excellent night vision and it is believed they can see in the ultraviolet light range, which is abundant in the early morning and late afternoon.

It is possible to age a deer based on the growth and wear of the teeth. Deer only have teeth on their bottom jaw and these teeth are big and fairly flat, ideal for chewing and grinding leaves, twigs and hard shelled seeds such as acorns.

The spine and pelvis fascinated me. I didn't realize how narrow the pelvis was on these animals.

This picture is my favorite:

What a unique find. I'm looking forward to the additional treasures I'm going to find this summer in the woods.

A great deal of the info I found on deer anatomy was on and the Missouri Dept of Conservation website.

And don't worry Mom, I washed my hands after handling the bones.

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