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Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 17:24 EDT

Roe Deer, Capreolus capreolus

The roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), also known as the European roe deer, the chevreuil, or the western roe deer, can be found in many areas of Eurasia. Its range extends from British Isles to the Caucasus, and from the Mediterranean into Scandinavia. It does not occur in Ireland, Iceland, the islands in the Mediterranean Sea, or the most northern area of Scandinavia. It was introduced by German colonial administrators into Micronesia on the island of Pohnpei for hunting purposes.

The roe deer can be found at different altitudes throughout its range, but in the Mediterranean, it prefers mountainous regions and will not typically inhabit areas at low altitudes. In most areas, it prefers a habitat within grasslands or sparse forests. If livestock occupy or have occupied an open area, the roe deer will not reside there.

The roe deer can reach an average body length between 3.1 and 4.4 feet, with an average weight of up to 77 pounds and a height of 2.5 feet, making it a smaller deer. Its fur is red-brown in the summer and brown to black in the winter, with grey fur occurring on the muzzle. The underbelly is pale in color, a white patch occurs on the rump. The tail is short, only reaching 1.2 inches at most, and cannot be seen most of the time. Males bear short antlers, with the first and second sets only reaching between 2 and 4.7 inches, and these do not branch out. Older males grow longer antlers, reaching between eight and ten inches, that branch out with two or three points on average.

The roe deer is most active during the twilight hours, moving quickly through its habitat. It typically forms small groups of one male, two or three females, and the fawns that are produced within the group. When alarmed, the roe deer will emit a dog like bark, lift its small tail, and flee. It consumes many types of vegetation including berries, leaves, grasses, and shoots. It prefers young grass that still holds dew or moisture from a rain.

The mating season for the roe deer occurs in the early months of summer, although some deer will mate in late autumn. The courtship ritual involves males emitting low grunts or high-pitched wails to attract females, after which it may use its horns to root around in vegetation. After this, the male will chase the female, often leaving behind flattened vegetation in the shape of a figure eight, known as “roe rings”.

After a long pregnancy period of up to ten months, due to delayed implantation, the female roe can give birth to one or two fawns. Births of two fawns are more common, and consist of one female and one male. These fawns will stay hidden in vegetation until joining the group, and will nurse numerous times in a day for up to three months. Sexual maturity is reached at up to sixteen months of age, and the typical lifespan of this species is ten years.

The roe deer appears in the popular cultural books Bambi, A Life in the Woods and Bambi’s Children written by Felix Salten, although the species and location were changed in Walt Disney Studio’s Bambi. It is said that a roe deer aided Genevieve of Brabant and her child after being forced to leave their home. In southern England, the population of roe deer was nearly extinct at the beginning of the 20th century, but the populations there have since then increased and expanded for no discernible reason. The roe deer appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Least Concern”.

Image Caption: Capreolus capreolus male and female. Credit: Nickshanks/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus