black cat at the top of a christmas tree

Christmas is on its way! Lovely, glorious, beautiful Christmas, upon which the entire kid year revolves.

If you celebrate this holiday (and even if you don’t), you probably know the movie I am referring to. A Christmas Story is my all-time favorite Christmas movie followed closely by Christmas Vacation

Both movies have iconic scenes involving “that most important of Christmas symbols.” I am referring of course to the Christmas tree. I LOVE my Christmas tree. It brings me great joy to sit with it at night. Dressing it in tiny twinkling lights, a sparkly bow, and shiny Christmas balls transforms even the scrawniest specimen into a magnificent sight. Just ask Charlie Brown

Unfortunately, my tree is missing its Christmas balls again this year. 

Sometimes this happens to bucks too. Yes, I am referring to those balls. 

In the last hour of the last day of the rifle season, a friend got an early Christmas present. 

hunter holding head up of a harvest buck in field

When she rolled him over to start the work of field dressing, she noticed something odd. No boy parts!

photo of genitalia of buck with no testicles

How can this be?!?!? Antlers and testicles are a couple! Like peanut butter and jelly. Bacon and eggs. The most important of buck symbols!

I have written and been asked more questions about antlers more times than I can count. As stated previously, antlers cast the longest shadow when it comes to deer. You could say I’m a minor expert in antlers. Here’s what I know. Antler growth is complex and many things can go wrong. And the list of how things can go wrong is very, very long. Injury, disease, parasitism, and hormone disruptions can all cause deviations from the norm. 

harvested buck laying on his side in a field

When these photos were shared with me, my first thought was those Christmas balls are in there somewhere because without them, there is no way he could produce those very normal looking antlers. The complex hormonal Nutcracker was being conducted and in time with the seasonal symphony. But where are they?

Cryptorchidism is failure of one or both testes to descend into the scrotum. It is more common in companion animals, pigs, and people (2-12%) than it is in sheep and cows. I’d wager deer would fall below sheep and cows. There are a few reports in the literature from the 50s and 60s. However, there was a population of Sitka black-tailed deer introduced to Kodiak Island, Alaska that had some nutcracker issues. In one area of the island, 65% of deer examined were bilateral cryptorchids and 70% of them had abnormal antlers. 

The cause of cryptorchidism isn’t known but given its low rate it is likely the result of fetal exposure to an endocrine disruptor on an individual basis and not a heritable condition. For the nutcracker-less Sitka deer, it is hypothesized that pregnant females were exposed to an estrogenic endocrine disruptor agent. 

After some searching, the testes of our Christmas ball-less buck were located in the abdomen not far from the bladder. Confirming his bilateral cryptorchid status.

testes in gut pile

Regardless, this unique buck might be the greatest Christmas present our happy hunter has ever received or would ever receive. 

Whether you’re having a “fun old fashioned family Christmas” or scheming to get your hands on that red rider carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle, we hope your holiday is filled with fun and friends and a few Christmas balls 😊

-Jeannine Fleegle
Wildlife Biologist
PA Game Commission

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