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What Species of Deer Consumes Human Remains?

Although labeled as herbivores, deer are known for bizarrely developing a taste for blood. There are many instances in the past when they’ve consumed dead rabbits, fishes, and bats. Surprisingly, deer have even gnawed on the remains of a human corpse. 

In January 2015, a group of experts captured the first-known instance of the herbivorous white-tailed deer gnawing on human bones, with much of the corpse’s body already decomposed. 

An Introduction to the White-Tailed Deer

The white-tailed deer, or the Odocoileus virginianus, is the North American deer family’s smallest member, ranging from 6 to 7.75 feet in size and their weight starting from 110 to 300 pounds. They’re local to different areas from Southern Canada to South America, and they’re generally spotted venturing at dawn and dusk as they’re either nocturnal or crepuscular creatures.

Adult white-tailed deer have reddish-brown coats during the summer, with its hues fading to a grayish-brown in winter. Bucks, or the male deer, are distinguishable by their massive antlers, which grow annually and naturally fall in winter. Does, or the female deer, do not have antlers, and they usually birth one to three young after a seven-month-long gestation period. Fawns, or the young deer, have a reddish-brown coat with white spots, aiding them to blend in with nature.

White-tailed deer are herbivorous mammals that graze on the vast amount of food available to them. The stomachs of the white-tailed deer permit them to digest their wide-ranging diet, which includes lichens, fungi, leaves, twigs, grass, corn, alfalfa, fruits, and nuts. (Sources: National Geographic

The Deer’s Unusual Taste for Blood

Indeed, a white-tailed deer is herbivorous, but that doesn’t stop them from developing a taste for blood. In an article by Popular Science, they discuss experts’ assumptions why white-tailed deer violate their vegetarian diets.

They’re known to have a taste for blood. Previously they’ve been spotted eating fish, bats, and dead rabbits. Scientists think deer and other herbivores may occasionally seek out flesh to get minerals—such as phosphorus, salt, and calcium—that may be missing from their regular diets, especially in wintertime.

Sarah Fecht, Popular

(Source: Popular Science)

With that said, forensic scientists were baffled when they discovered a white-tailed deer scavenging human bones. Researchers captured the first recorded instance in January 2015 as part of research on animal scavengers in San Marcos, Texas, at the 26-acre Forensic Anthropology Research Facility.

According to a case report published for The Journal of Forensic Sciences, the scientists placed a corpse in a wooden area to study how scavengers affected the decomposition process. The experts then utilized a camera to record the animals that partially consumed the corpse.

More than 180 days passed, with most of the body already decomposing and its dry rib cage already revealed, and the white-tailed deer popped into view. In January 2015, the camera captured a photo of the deer with a rib bone in its mouth, hanging out like a cigar. Eight days later, the camera photographed another deer gnawing on bones.

Deer have been known to chew on the bones of other animals and prefer dry bones with a rectangular cross-section. But this latest study documents the first instance of a deer chewing on a human bone.

Jason Daley, The Smithsonian Magazine

(Source: Smithsonian Magazine)

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