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When roe deer antlers "go back"


When my room was being changed with new display cabinets for my bones in the summer, I moved this skull that had been hidden away on a high shelf, back on top of my display cabinet. It is from a roe buck (male) but is different to how you would think it would look. 

Some bone collectors like to have perfect skulls but I like weird or misshapen skulls as much, because they tell a story of the animals life. Here the nose bones have gone, and the antlers are more bent back than all my other roe buck skulls.  When the antlers are in velvet, they are more soft and can bend because it is not getting enough nutrients, but when they are out of velvet the antlers are hard and can't bend. 

Dad and I found it here in the Gleneagles wood near my house. It has green mould on the jaws and antlers, and I cleaned the skull up with biological washing powder and hydrogen peroxide. For the antlers I used wet kitchen wipes to wipe off the green, then left it in the sun.

This is how it looked when it was cleaned up. Even though the level of the peroxide was only to the top of the skull, you can see how it has risen up into the antlers as well. But most of all you can see how misshapen the antlers are. It is missing the front of its nose, though, but foxes often bite this part to eat the nose tissue.

I've written about how roe deer antlers grow before. Roe deer antlers fall off around the end of every November, and new ones start growing straight away. They grow until about the end of March. When they grow they are covered in velvet. Velvet is fur that grows on the antlers to help them grow by supplying blood to them. It makes the roe deer look like they have gloves on their antlers:

When the antler is fully grown, the antler is hard and velvet starts to fall off, like this:

Roe buck antlers are all supposed to be the same shape, with three points (tines), unlike red deer antlers. But even so, there are lots of different roe deer antler shapes. (I've written about that before too). Look at all these deer I have seen near my house, and how the angle and size of the antlers change.

The last picture is of a roe deer who broke his antler while it was still in velvet and was soft.

The other thing to notice is that their antlers are much smaller in proportion to their head than red deer, sika and fallow deer (but bigger than muntjac). They use antlers for fighting as well, but they usually fight over territory, not just for females. These two roe bucks were fighting in the same wood as I found the skull.

You can see how bent back this roe buck's antlers are, and that they are missing the front "tine" or spike. Clearly something happened to make these antlers not grow as straight and as strong as they should. This is called "going back".

This is a good clue as to why. The teeth were smoothed down almost to the gum line, showing this was an old deer. Roe deer rely on their teeth to grind all the nutrients out of food. If they can't grind enough, because their teeth are flat, then they don't get enough nutrients, and nutrients are needed for strong antler growth.

There was one front incisor missing, but they are easy to lose and look like pine needles.

This is the underside of the skull. The hole on the left is where the spine goes in to the braincase. There are normally two cracks in the channel down the middle of the skull if it is a young deer, but as deer get older the skull plates fuse more. This is another sign this was an old deer.

So really the things that make this skull not 'perfect' make it easier to understand how it lived its life. You can tell from the teeth that it lived a long life, because the teeth were worn flat and the cracks  had fused. You can tell it probably didn't have long to live anyway, because deer die of malnutrition when the teeth wear down to the gum line. And you can see if was probably starting to be malnourished because of the way the antlers grew.

This roe deer in the Pheasant Woods has similar antlers but looks quite healthy for now.

It is interesting to know how this deer lived its life. The Gleneagles is a good place to be a deer because it has lots of open space. I see so many skeletons of baby deer, so its nice to see a deer that lived a lng and happy life.

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Psydrache said...

That was a nice entry, I really enyoj it. Antlers fascinate me too, especially if there are strange ones.

Jake said...

Thanks !

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