PSU Deer Study

Life can be hard.  And while Ringo Starr wasn’t my favorite Beatle, he was a Beatle and his signature anthem rings true for us all.  Even wildlife.

In between catching deer (big and small), collecting poop, and repairing veg plot fencing, crews investigate mortality events.  We’ve reported on lots of them over the years (Dangerous Game; One Time Too Many; Like Mother, Like Son; Life and Times of Buck 8917).

For me, none of our mortality events are ordinary or routine.  It is the final chapter in the life of a study animal.  As unique as the deer whose fate it marks.  I am fascinated by every chapter in the story.  

The southern crew recently investigated the swan song of Doe 17175.  Her story began with us on February 27 when she was captured.  She received the works – collar, VIT, ear tags.  The crew sent her on her way perhaps a little groggy but no worse for wear.  

About a month later, we received the notice.  Collar 17175 was in mortality mode.  It’s always a little disappointing when a study animal’s story ends so soon after capture.  It ends up being a very short story.  

Doe 17175 was located under some white pines covered in leaves with only her hind legs and top of back exposed.


There were bite marks with portions of the neck and chest consumed. 

Mort17175-2  Mort17175-3

As is protocol for all mortalities, 17175 was delivered to the Animal Diagnostics Lab for necropsy.  Why?  Because things are not always as they seem.  

We received the necropsy report a day later from the good Dr. Brown regarding our cached and slightly chewed protagonist.  FINAL DIAGNOSIS: Blunt force trauma, predation

Recall a light-hearted post about the discovery of the #1 predator of deer on our study areas.  The conclusion that rodents were taking down our favorite cervid was based on DNA results from wound swabs of the fallen.  If you learned anything from that post, I hope it was to consider all sources of information in context.  

Ms. 17175 had fractured ribs and hemorrhaging throughout the thorax with lacerations.  Most plausible explanation is a predator that travels on 4 tires, not 4 paws. 

Necropsy17175-1  Necropsy17175-2

Unfortunately for 17175, the Oldsmobile (Jeep, F-150, Subaru, or Taurus) didn’t finish the job.

Enter Wile E.  Talk about lucky day!  Sing it Ringo.  With the help of a large, fast moving, 4,000-lb friend, a coyote definitely “got by.”  The coyote finished what the car started, had a quick snack, and stashed the rest for later. In fact, most deer consumed by coyotes outside the fawning period were scavenged – 92% of the time according to research in New York.

Bummer for him she was wearing a collar.  As they say, easy come, easy go.  Maybe next time his meal won’t “stand up and walk out” on him.  

-Jeannine Fleegle
Wildlife Biologist
PGC Deer and Elk Section

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