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My spiker red deer skulls (part 1)


For the last couple of weeks I have been cleaning up this skull for a friend who is a bone collector in England. It is a young red deer stag skull, and I first found it in April at a gamekeepers pit in a red deer wood that I walk in.

It is interesting because the antlers are just spikes, the longest  about 15cm long,without any branches or tines. Deer that have antlers like this are called 'spikers', 'spikes' or sometimes 'prickets' . The left antler is shorter because it has been broken.

This is what the skull looked like when I first found it:

It still had some flesh and fur on it so I left it in the wood for longer, then collected it about a month ago. It was a great skull because it had the jaws and incisors as well.

I see spikers quite a lot. Young male red deer stay with the mother red deer herd until they are two or three. Here is a spiker stag with two hinds that I saw in the same wood last summer:

Other types of deer can be spikers too. This is a young sika stag that I saw at the Scottish Deer Centre:

And here are two roe deer bucks that I saw when I was out walking about two weeks ago.

You can tell how old this red deer was by looking at the teeth. Deer have six cheek teeth, three of which are molars (M1, M2, M3) and three of which are premolars (pm1, pm2, pm3). The baby premolars (pm1, pm2, pm3) and the first molar (M1) are there when the deer is born, then M2 and M3 come through. Then the adult premolars (PM1, PM2, PM3 in capitals) push out the baby premolars. You can tell if the premolars are the baby teeth because pm3 (baby tooth) has three cusps, but PM3 (adult tooth) has just two

This red deer has baby premolars, and no back molar yet. You can see the hole where M3 will start to come through, but you can't see it yet. 

Usually, M2 comes through at one year old, and M3 starts to come through at about two years old. So I think this deer was between one year and two years old when it was killed. I found the skull in April, and I think it was maybe killed two months before, so that would make it one year and eight months old.

I found seven of the eight incisors (front teeth),

At first I was disappointed not to find the missing tooth, but when I looked harder I saw that the missing one might have been missing when it was killed. The missing tooth is called i2, and you can see the adult tooth (I2 with a capital letter) is coming through and has pushed it out. The big teeth in the middle are adult incisors (I1). The small ones at the edges are still baby teeth (i3 and i4)

This is a report written by scientists which says that I2 normally comes through when the red deer is about 17 or 18 months old. That would mean the deer died in November or December last year.

I've found two red deer spiker antlers. These antlers were found in a wood where the young stags still live with the hinds.

The hind herd spend a lot of time in the woods, so it can be difficult to see them all at once. But last February, my dad managed to stalk and photograph the whole herd on the moor behind their wood.

There were seventeen deer in the herd, and if you look closely you can see two spikers.

The one on the left has short spiker antlers, like the one on my skull. I don't think this is the same deer, though, because the deer photographed in February 2010 would have had these antlers fall off in April 2010, and new ones grow afterwards.s

The deer on the right has much longer antlers, maybe about 40cm long, but they are still spikers. I have a red deer skull with antlers like these and I am going to write about it next week I have written about it here.

The red deer at the back of the herd looks like the youngest. I wonder if this was my red deer when it was only eight months old. I don't think I will ever know, though.

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