What is deer antler velvet? How does it help the antler grow? (Part 2)

Answered by Doug Halford, Ecologist and Program Manger, GSS ESER Program   www.gsseser.com

Antler growth is relatively slow early in the spring, peaks in June or July (becoming the fastest bone growth of all mammals) and slows again in late summer. Towards the middle of summer the bone begins to form. The antler development is normally completed in about 100 days. Antlers can grow about a quarter of an inch a day.

Deer2.2The hardening of deer antlers and losing the outer velvet occurs during late summer or early fall. At this point the bone mineralizes and becomes hard. Now all the cartilage, which was previously soft, is strong bone. The blood flow to and through the velvet stops and growing halts. The antlers are at their final size for the season. With no blood flow, the velvet dries up and falls off. At this point the buck’s antlers are bare hardened bone. The velvet is typically totally removed in a day, and some of it may be eaten by the buck or is scraped off on trees, tall grass, or anything else available. In addition to removing the velvet from their new antlers, buck rubs also help to strengthen the neck for the upcoming rut. Antler growth in a deer is largely dependent on the age of the deer, genetics, and diet.

Bucks shed their antlers in late winter or early spring. The connection between the antler and the pedicle weakens (due to osteoclasts reabsorbing the bone that attaches the antler to the pedicle). With the bone being reabsorbed, the antler has nothing attaching it to the buck’s head, and it falls off. Antlers can be shed by rubbing the antler on a tree, accidentally knocking it on a tree branch, or just falling off by themselves. (Sometimes this can happen while a deer is sleeping, which is what might have happened if you find a set of sheds together.) As soon as the antlers fall off, a new set begins to grow and the cycle is repeated.

Deer Body Language

Deer communicate with their whole bodies. Tails, ears, eyes, and postures tell other deer about potential dangers and communicate family relationships. Deer also “talk” to each other with grunts, bleats, and snorts.

Deer2.1Deer alarm displays are a type of body language that keep the herd safe. These actions are made my both male and female deer during all seasons of the year.

  • Foot Stomp – The deer will lift its forefoot slowly, pause, and then stamp downward with great force. This is used when a deer is alarmed but cannot identify the object of its suspicion.
  • Head Bob – The head is bobbed up and down. The deer begins to lower its head toward the ground as if to feed but then quickly jerks its head back up. This is a typical response to an unidentified object or motion.
  • Tail Flag – The tail is held up and wagged loosely from side to side exposing the white underside and rump patch. The tail flag is used when running from danger, real or imagined. This helps to keep the group together when fleeing. In the deep thickets and heavy brush, it would be very easy for fawns to lose sight of Mom.
  • All Clear – When a deer wags its tail once, in a casual side-to side tail flick, it often is an “all clear” signal.

Humans use body language to communicate as well. For example, if someone nods their head at you, what does it mean? Probably you said it means, “Yes”. This is body language, gestures we use that have meanings.

Deer2.3What do these gestures mean?

  • High Five
  • Thumbs Up
  • OK
  • Cross my heart
  • You’re Out
  • Cross your fingers
  • Wink
  • Thumbs Down
  • Shrug Shoulders
  • Nod
  • Shake Hands
  • Shake Head
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