We are all familiar with our beloved white-tailed deer.  And many of us have met its western cousin, the mule deer.  They share the same genus (Odocoileus) and are genetic “siblings” – mule deer are genetically more similar to whitetails than they are to blacktails.  

Many of us are also familiar with sibling rivalry.  Deer are no different.  Take predator evasion.  

For the whitetail, it’s pretty straight forward – run!  Run REALLY fast.  A whitetail’s philosophy is to put as much distance between it and the threat as quickly as possible.  Given its success over the millennia, it’s a pretty good one.

Successful or not this isn’t good enough for rebellious sibling.  Mule deer refuse to gallop.  Instead, they stott – a very specialized form of locomotion.  Instead of running around and past large obstacles like trees and boulders, mule deer seek them out to put them between itself and danger.

Not just anyone can stott.  Whitetails can’t.  Occasionally, crosses of whitetails and mule deer occur in areas where their ranges overlap.  But stotting (and its genetics) are so specialized that a deer must be 100% mule deer to do it.  If not, what results is a clumsy bound.

Hybrids are so confused they neither run nor attack a predator.  Needless to say, the white-mule deer has not yet evolved as a species. 

-Jeannine Fleegle
PGC Deer and Elk Section

 

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