Red Deer (Cervus elaphus)
The red deer (Cervus elaphus) is one of the largest deer species.
Red deer are ruminants, characterized by an even number of toes, and a four-chambered stomach.
Genetic evidence indicates the red deer (Cervus elaphus) as traditionally definedis a species group rather than a single species, although it remains disputed as to exactly how many species the group includes. Although at one time red deer were rare in parts of Europe they were never close to extinction. Reintroduction and conservation efforts, especially in the
United Kingdom, have resulted in an increase of red deer populations, while other areas, such as North Africa, have continued to show a population decline.
Only the stags have antlers, which start growing in the spring and are shed each year, usually at the end of winter. Antlers typically measure 71 cm (28 in) in total length and weigh 1 kg (2.2 lb), although large ones can grow to 115 cm (45 in) and weigh 5 kg (11 lb). Antlers are made of bone which can grow at a rate of 2.5 cm (1 in) a day. A soft covering known as velvet helps to protect newly forming antlers in the spring.
European red deer antlers are distinctive in being rather straight and rugose, with the fourth and fifth tines forming a “crown” or “cup” in larger males.
Any tines in excess of the fourth and fifth tine will grow radially from the cup, which are generally absent in the antlers of smaller red deer, such as Corsican red deer. Western European red deer antlers feature “bez” (second) tines that are either absent or smaller than the brow tines.
However, bez tines occur frequently in Norwegian red deer. Antlers of Caspian red deer carry large bez tines and form less-developed cups than western European red deer, their antlers are thus more like the “throw back” top tines of the wapiti (C. canadensis), known as maraloid characteristics.
A stag can (exceptionally) have antlers with no tines, and is then known as a switch. Similarly, a stag that does not grow antlers is a hummel. The antlers are testosterone-driven and as the stag’s testosterone levels drop in the autumn, the velvet is shed and the antlers stop growing.
With the approach of autumn, the antlers begin to calcify and the stags’ testosterone production builds for the approaching rut (mating season).
During the autumn, all red deer subspecies grow thicker coats of hair, which helps to insulate them during the winter. Autumn is also when some of the stags grow their neck manes. The autumn/winter coat of most subspecies are most distinct. The Caspian red deer’s winter coat is greyer
and has a larger and more distinguished light rump-patch (like wapiti and some central Asian red deer) compared to the Western European red deer, which has more of a greyish-brown coat with a darker yellowish rump patch in the winter. By the time summer begins, the heavy winter coat has been shed;
the animals are known to rub against trees and other objects to help remove hair from their bodies. Red deer have different colouration based on the seasons and types of habitats, with grey or lighter colouration prevalent in the winter and more reddish and darker coat colouration in the summer.
Most European red deer have reddish-brown summer coats, and some individuals may have a few spots on the backs of their summer coats.
The European red deer is found in southwestern Asia (Asia Minor and Caucasus regions), North Africa and Europe.
The red deer is the largest non-domesticated mammal still existing in the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Ireland.
In the Netherlands a huge herd (around 3 000 animals by the end of 2012) live in the Oostvaarders Plassen, a nature reserve.