(odocoileus virginianus clavium),
the smallest of all white-tailed deer, is
a subspecies of the Virginia white-tailed deer. These deer inhabit Big
Pine Key and various surrounding keys. They are not found anywhere else in
Due to uncontrolled hunting and habitat
destruction, their numbers were estimated less than 50 animals in 1940's.
With the establishment of National Key Deer Refuge in 1957 and intensive law
enforcement efforts, the population has since increased and has now
stabilized. The estimated population is approximately 600 deer on Big Pine
Key and No Name Key (this does not include other keys in the deer's range).
is the greatest known source of deer loss.
The shoulder height of Key deer is between
24-28 inches. Does weigh 45-65 pounds while bucks weigh 55-75 pounds.
Rutting season activities begin in September, peaking in early October and
decreasing gradually through November and December. Some breeding may occur
as late as February. The gestation period is 204 days with fawns born April
through June. At birth fawns weigh 2-4 pounds. Antlers are dropped February
through March, and re-growth begins almost immediately so that by June,
bucks with 2-inch stubs are seen. Antler growth is completed by August, and
velvet is rubbed and kicked off in early September.
Key deer feed on native plants such as
red, black and white mangroves, thatch palm berries and over 150 other
species of plants. Key deer can tolerate small amounts of salt in their
water and they will also drink brackish water, but fresh water is essential
for their survival. They must also have suitable habitat to ensure their
No records exist documenting the origin of
the deer in the keys. It is believed the deer migrated to the keys from the
mainland many thousands of years ago, across a long land bridge. As the
Wisconsin Glacier melted, the sea rose dividing the land bridge into small
islands known as the Florida Keys.
The earliest mention of Key deer is found
in the memoirs of Fontaneda, a shipwrecked Spaniard held captive by the
local Indians. Records suggest that the deer were found around Key West and
were used for food by residents and ship crews alike. Although early records
indicated sporadic wider distribution of Key deer throughout the lower keys,
current data indicates they occupy a range from Johnson Keys to Saddlebunch
National Key Deer Refuge
US Fish & Wildlife Service has a good
website on the National Key Deer Refuge.
(clicking the link opens a new browser page.)
description of Key deer
From the US Fish & Wildlife Service's
Endangered Species Division, the official species description of the Key
deer, and some info on their habitat and range.
here. (clicking the link opens a new
Key deer are fond of many plant species
that folks try to grow. Knowing what plants the deer eat and don't eat
can make gardening and landscaping in Key deer country much less
Note: (Aug 14, 2007) The University of Florida Extension
Service has dropped the list of plants that Key deer won't eat from their Keys Gardening Guide.
It's apparent that a number of plants that have been considered less
attractive to the deer are increasingly being eaten by them, depending on
what else is available, and perhaps other unknown factors. Some plants
are still more and less attractive to the deer, and we hope to post a
revised list soon.
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PO Box 430224, Big Pine Key, FL 33043-0224