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Was Charlie a buck or a doe ?


This is the roe deer skeleton that I found in January in the wood near Gleneagles. We found the pelvis, one entire leg, some broken ribs, and most of the spine, and we called this skeleton Charlie, because we didn't know whether it was a buck (male) or a doe (female). Normally deer skeletons are easy to work out if you have the skull, because only the male deer have antlers (unless you're a reindeer, but we don't have those in Scotland). But we didn't have Charlie's skull, so we didn't know.

Then two weeks ago I got an email from Debby, an assistant professor from America. Her daughter was about the same age as me and she had found a deer pelvis, and she wanted to know if we knew whether you could tell the difference between male and female deer pelvises. I didn't, and Daddy didn't either but we sent her pictures of the pelvises where we knew whether it was a male or female.

Here are the pictures we sent her. The ones that are blue are red deer, and both are female. The ones that are pink are from roe deer, and both are male. After we sent the pictures, she emailed back saying that there was a way to tell the difference, and what to look for. The bit we had to look for was the pubic arch. This is what it looks like on each of my skeletons.

• Alice, the young female red deer

Alice is a female red deer that we found in September (top picture). I think Alice is less than a year old, though I haven't worked it out properly yet. Like all the young deer pelvises I have found, this one was in four pieces when I found it, broken down the middle, and then again down the leg socket.

Debby told me to look at the gap at the bit at the bottom, and draw an imaginary triangle like the yellow lines in the picture.

• Dixie, the young female red deer

Dixie was a young female red deer that I found in Suicides Graves wood soon after she died in April last year. Here's picture of her body just after we found her (it's the fourth picture down). Three months later we went back and collected her skull and some of her bones.

I did the same thing again with the yellow lines. They looked about the same as they did with Alice.

• Eddie, the male roe deer

Eddie was the first skeleton I collected, and I found him in the Pheasant Woods. I think he was about two-and-a-half years old. Here's about how I worked out his age, and here's a video clip of me putting the skeleton together.

I did the same with the yellow lines on Eddie's pelvis, and it looked a bit narrower than Alice or Dixie.

• George, the male roe deer

George is a male roe deer that I found in the woods behind the Roman Fort a month ago. Here's when I found him (second picture) and this is how I worked out his age (I think he's just over a year old).

George's pelvis was broken on one side, but looked about the same as Eddie, and narrower than Alice or Dixie.

So it looks like male pelvises are a bit narrower there than female pelvises, but you have to look hard to see it. You can do the same in human skeletons to work out whether it is male or female.

• So is Charlie male or female ?

The problem with Charlie's pelvis is that is broken badly round this bit. Another thing is that the pelvis is joined together and is just one piece of bone, not two or four. I think this means it was an older deer than the other four.

I put in the yellow lines where I thought the rest of the pelvis would have been.

This looks more like a female, but it's difficult to say, and I might have made a mistake. But I think Charlie was an older female roe deer.

It was nice to help someone else out with a bones problem, and I'm glad she was able to help me out too.

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Anonymous said...


Thanks for a great website! My dad found some bones in the woods several years ago (we live in Pennsylvania in the USA) and he has attempted to identify what type of animal the bones belong to. After searching for years, I came across your website, and it is exactly like your pelvic bones from the Red and Roe Deer. My question is about how similar these pelvic bones are to other deer species, specifically ones found in North America. Also, since the other bones in the skeleton didn't look like a deer's, are there other animals that have pelvic bones that look like the pelvic bone of these deer?? Thanks!!

Jake said...

Hi there ! Lots of animals have pelvises that look like pelvises of deer. I have rabbit and cat pelvises and they look the same apart from the size. But you can always tell roe and red deer pelvises apart because the roe deer pelvis is always smaller. In the woods I search in, there aren't any other animals the same size as roe or red deer.

I don't know much about American deer, but I think the white tailed deer is about the same as our roe deer, and I know wapiti are like our red deer. So I think the pelvises should look the same.

If you send me a picture of the other bones I might be able to help. My email is jakesbones@gmail.com.

Anonymous said...

Hi, sending this note from Northeastern United States, near Boston, MA. Angie is a new bone collector. The first bone we found in the woods near our house was half a pelvis. We figured out it was a hip bone but didn't know what type of animal it came from. Thanks to your great pictures and informative website Angie figured out it was a deer pelvis. She would like to look you up if we ever make it to Scotland to hunt for bones together and we will check in often!
Kind regards,
Angie (Lava) and her mom

Jake said...

Definitely yes to bone collecting together ! It's really cool when I can help someone thousands of miles away. I get more visitors from the USA than the UK and I love it when people leave comments.

Bella said...

Hi jake,
Is it the same with other animals, or is it just with deer?

Jake said...

Hi Bella,

I'm not sure but I think the hips are different in a lot of mammals (including humans !)

Anonymous said...

Jake, what a great web site, thank you! Stumbled across much of a skeleton when out GeoCaching, and you've set my mind at ease, even more so than my Boy Scout son, who saw it and instantly said, "cool, a deer skeleton!" (Heck, it looked like a gruesome crime scene to ME!) Good luck & keep up the good detective work!

Delores said...

What a great "find"! And what a smart guy! I found a pelvis of a white tail deer(all we have here in Smithville, Tx) I could not figure out what I had found until I found this great site! I found it on a trail on our land here in the Bastrop Piney Woods and now I know why the dogs had been barking all night...something had been chewing on this hip bone
last night. We have a daring Coyote here and I suspect it was them.
I keep a very close eye on my tiny apple head chihuahua!
Delores from Texas

Jake said...

Glad it helped !

paleowin said...

Hi, I'm a biology researcher studying sexual dimorphism in deer in the US. I've been finding I can actually take 8 measurements on the astragalus and get a pretty high confidence on the sex of the individual. I'd be happy to add my oppinion!

Jake said...

That's amazing ! I wouldn't have thought that was possible.

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