Mule Deer, White Tailed Deer and Distress Calls

Science Daily is reporting on an interesting study – published in Animal Behavior – comparing responses to fawn distress calls:

An intriguing study of mule deer and whitetail deer conducted by the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada and the University of Lethbridge, also in Canada, showed that both species responded to the recorded distress calls of fawns, similar to the responses elicited when coyotes attack fawns, with mule deer mothers responding to both whitetail and mule deer calls, even when their own fawn stood next to them. In contrast, the whitetail mothers responded only to their own species’ call, and only when they could not see their own fawn.
The fact that mule deer ran to the speaker when their own fawn was standing next to them safe and sound revealed they do not help other fawns because they mistake them for their own [emphasis mine - afarensis],” said lead author Susan Lingle, who conducted the research as a postdoctoral fellow in biological sciences at the University of Alberta and in psychology at the University of Lethbridge.

Researchers relate the behavior to differences in predator avoidance strategies. Mule deers have a more aggressive response to predators, while white tailed deer prefer to flee (they also suffer higher fawn predation than mule deer).

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5 Responses

  1. Mule Deers, White Tailed Deers

    Psst – the correct plural of deer is deer.

  2. I think the emphasized statement goes a little beyond the evidence. Could be that mule deer does aren’t around unrelated fawns that much, so they’re programmed to respond to all distress calls as a simple reflex for protecting their own fawn, as opposed to the more complicated mental processing the white tail doe has to follow before deciding whether to respond.
    If mulies and white tails are around unrelated does an equal amount, that would destroy my contrary theory that I’m speculation about right here.

  3. FWIW, mulies are bigger than white tails (I think), while Eastern North America coyotes are bigger than western coyotes. That would also weigh in on a doe’s decision whether to go all She-Hulk against a coyote attack.

  4. I was just wondering if anyone knew a reason a doe would bite the tail off her fawns? They are about a month old this is not her first mothering term she is about 5 years old and really can’t be sure its her doing it but one fawn was done Monday and the other this morning, and they both are her fawns, the mom doesn’t act like she feels well. Thanks for any input.

  5. I do not know. I would consult a vet or your local Forestry Dept, Conservation Dept, etc.

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