Deer live predominantly in grassy forests, however their range have habitat can be very variable, which is one of the reasons why they have been so successful Globally as an invasive species. The habitats they occupy in Australia include rainforests, eucalypt bush, forested areas and farmlands. Their preferred food is grasses but they also eat the leaves of shrubs, trees and herbs, bark and some fruit. Their extensive browsing habits can entirely change ecosystems, which is why deer are sometimes referred to as ‘ecosystem engineers’. When deer are introduced to a new area, their effect on the environment can significantly impact native species through habitat degradation and alteration. Without natural predators managing deer populations and behaviours, deer can eat themselves and other species into starvation.
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As previously mentioned, male deer produce antlers which break off and regrow each year, which separates them from Bovids with grow horns. Deer also differ from Bovids in their nutritional requirements and eating habits. Bovids will eat large quantities of low-grade fibrous food where as deer are more selective, opting for easily digestive new shoots, lush grasses, young leave, soft fruits and lichens. Deer require large quantities of mineral rich food of high-nutritional value to support their size, speed and agility and calcium is particularly important to the males to support the yearly growth of their antlers. Male deer have been observed exhibiting carnivorous behaviour by gnawing of dead animal carcasses when in need or more calcium.
Breeding is variable across the six species but often takes place in rutting season. During ‘the rut’ males compete against each other to win females and be able to mate with them. This is a period where males are filled with testosterone and are often heard ‘roaring’ in a display of dominance to competing males. Deer present most danger to humans during rutting season as they are less aware of their surroundings and could potentially charge people if they get in they way of a battle. They also run thoughtlessly across roads in their pursuit of opposing males and will often chase herds of females and juveniles into roads as well.
During breeding season males will dig large coffin-shaped crevices in the ground called wallows which fill with with mud and water and which the stag then urinates him in to identify the wallow as his own. The stag will submerge himself in the wallow, coating his fur in the muddy water to asset dominance and attract females. Females will align and mate with their chosen stage and can congregate in herds of 30 or more. Both males and females use scent glands above their eyes to mark their herd’s territory by rubbing on trees and land formations.
Of the deer species which are established in Australia, Fallow, Red , Rusa and Sambar Deer have an 8-9 month gestation period and give birth in December. Chital Deer do not have a defined breeding season and can produce three offspring in two years. Hog deer also reproduce irregularly, but they will most frequently give birth between August and October.
Does will usually have one or two fauns at a time, and on rare occasions will have triplets. Generally, fauns will be weaned in 2 – 3 months, by which point they can outrun most dangers. Since deer have no natural predators in Australia, the majority of fauns will survive. Females will stay with their mothers for around two years, young bucks however are usually chased away by the dominant stag after a year or so.