Antlered Doe Spotted in Floyd County, Virginia

Rural System is always looking for ways to connect its various proposed groups and enterprises, and seeking new ways to generate sustained profits from the land while improving its quality. We are pleased to share this unusual sighting of an antlered doe in Floyd County, Virginia.

This post was written by the founder of Rural System, Dr. Robert H. Giles Jr.

One of the proposed Groups or business enterprises within Rural System has been the Deer Group, engaged in modern computer-aided management of the local and regional deer populations. Concentrating on all of the potential benefits from the herd, the enterprise may integrate many parts from antlers, hides, hunts, tours, publications and art, and tourism dimensions. In addition to the conventional measures of hunting success, the Group plans to consider other gains, such as this sighting of the unusual antlered doe shown here with her fawn.

The Group will also monitor herd enhancement units of rich abundant plants, seasonally available to the animals in GIS mapped units of Rural System ownerships.  Herd quality index changes, related recreational sightings, photographs, publications, equipment, losses (safety crop, forest, and related garden and landscape), and poaching will all be closely monitored. Expert assistance will be sought from the state, and we are already thankful for Mr. Knox and the Cooperative Extension staff (especially Dr. Parkhurst), who answered our request for information on the antlered doe.

“I’ve read about these odd cases in the literature and seen lots of stories on the internet about hunters harvesting a “buck” with a large, well-polished, 8- or 10-point rack and then finding out that it did not display the expected genitalia they had anticipated.  In all my years, I’ve never seen the real thing, though, so this makes my day.

I showed the video to Don Linzey, who joined our department as an adjunct several years ago and has been teaching our Mammalogy class; he also has authored the “Mammals of Virginia” book — he said he has never seen this condition either, but, like me, occasionally had heard of it. He found it very interesting, but couldn’t offer much explanation about why.

I then called Matt Knox, Deer Program Leader for VDGIF, to get his take. He said it is a rare condition, but the agency usually gets about 1 or 2 reports of “antlered does” each year, mostly cases involving the type of situation I alluded to above — hunters thinking they have taken a nice buck, but ending up puzzled when, in the course of field-dressing it, something doesn’t seem quite right down below. According to Matt, he has seen 2 different scenarios where this odd condition has been expressed. Of the 2, the more common seems to involve cases of hermaphrodism, where components of both female and male genitalia are present and functional; in a lot of cases, the male components remain internal and are not obvious to the casual observer, so it appears outwardly to be a female, but the male parts are there (though hidden and perhaps somewhat smaller than normal). In these animals, given the functional nature of the anatomy, the animal is producing both male and female hormones simultaneously, including sufficient levels of testosterone to stimulate antler development throughout all of its stages (i.e., initial development and growth, velvet shedding, and eventual antler shedding). Matt noted that there have been some even more odd cases where testosterone was produced at a level sufficient to stimulate initial growth, but cannot be maintained long or in quantities sufficient enough to complete the process, so the velvet remains intact throughout the fall and antlers never drop; the following year, the same antlers start growing again, leading eventually to some pretty gruesome-looking racks that never fall off. In almost all cases, these hermaphroditic animals do not breed or successfully produce young.

In the other case, and, according to Matt, the less common situation, are those females that, for whatever reason, develop some kind of an internal physiological error that is displayed through an imbalance in normal hormone production. Instead of producing the normal cocktail of reproductive hormones one would expect among females (e.g., follicle stimulating hormone, estrogen, etc.), they also produce small quantities of testosterone, just enough to trigger the antler development process, but insufficient to take that process very far. The outward expression of this condition often is a set of small paired spikes or, as appears to be the case in this situation, partial development only on one side. Very often, due to the lack of sufficient testosterone, the antler(s) that develops never gets out of the velvet stage and sometimes does not fall off; others seem to disintegrate over the winter. A distinct difference between this and the previous condition is that these females are fully reproductive and often will be accompanied by fawns, as is the case here. Despite the hormone imbalance and the odd extremities, there seems to be no other negative impacts to the affected adult, as far as anyone seems to know. However, given the rarity of the condition, it’s not something that has been well studied. As to what causes the imbalance, it remains unknown . . .

I found an article from the Missouri Department of Conservation (http://mdc.mo.gov/newsroom/antlered-female-deer-crop-missouri-s-deer-harverst) from a couple of years ago that discusses these oddities and what seemed to be a subtle rise in occurrence there. That biologist seems to make a distinction between levels of hermaphrodism, leading to a discussion of 3 possible reasons for this occurrence, but I tend to see the 2nd and 3rd presented in that article as being subsets of each other. Anyway, I thought I’d pass that link along as further explanation, as offered by another state biologist. Though certainly a rare event, it appears to be common enough to garner attention pretty regularly across the country.”

Antlered Female DeerAntlered Female DeerAntlered Female DeerThese photos, taken in Floyd County, VA, are courtesy of Mark Wiley. Please click on the photos to view them larger. In each, you can see that the deer in the foreground has udders, so is therefore female. She also appears to have short fuzzy antlers.

We wish you all a bountiful hunting season! If you would like to share your bags with friends and family, check out Rural System’s newest app, Bag ‘n’ Brag. This app allows you to estimate the live weight of your deer in the field, and share photos and info of your hunting success easily through Facebook and Twitter. Rank your bags and compare stats with friends! Bag ‘n’ Brag is available now for Android and iOS- free!

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About Laurel Sindewald

Laurel is an alumna of Warren Wilson College with a BS in Conservation Biology and a BA in Philosophy. She is a writer for Rural System, Inc.

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