Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Deer, the popular name for the members of the family Cervidae, distinguished from all other Ruminants (q.v.) by the fact that the young are spotted, and by the character of the horns [Antlers], which are not borne by females, except in the genus Tarandus, and are wholly wanting in both sexes in the Musk-deer and Water-deer. These animals are almost universally distributed but are entirely absent from Africa south of the Sahara [Barbary Deer], and from Australia. The lacrymal sinus or tear-pit beneath each eye secretes a waxy substance with a strong odour, probably serving as a means of recognition. It is to this secretion that Shakespeare refers (As You Like It, II. i.) when he describes the wounded deer -

"On the extremest verge of the swift brook Augmenting it with tears."

Both sexes usually possess canine teeth in the upper jaw, and in some species they are so largely developed in the males as to form effective weapons of attack and defence. The species differ widely in habitat, but generally agree in living in pairs or in small herds under the leadership of an old male, and in feeding on herbage and the tender shoots of trees and shrubs. They vary greatly in size, the elk standing from seven to eight feet high at the shoulder, while the muntjac scarcely reaches a quarter as much. The flesh is eaten, and the venison of some species is excellent; the skin is tanned for clothing and rugs, the antlers are utilised for knife-handles, etc. The family contains about 50 living species, arranged in the following genera : Alces, Tarandus, Cervus, often divided into sub-genera, with about 40 species, one of which, the Red-deer (q.v.), is British; Capreolus, Dama, Cervulus, Moschus (sometimes regarded as an aberrant bovine) and Hydropotes, the chief species of which are described under their popular names.