Fawns in Jun at trailcam

Peeing is a part of life. Aside from the biological function of removing waste products from the body and providing us a host of entertaining idioms (pee in your Wheaties, pee like a racehorse, no pot to pee in – to name a few), urine is a great communicator. 

Moreover, it’s not just the urine itself. How and where one urinates also transmits a message. My female dog lifts her leg to pee on countless posts and trees in her never-ending battle with the local fox to dominate the neighborhood. Whether it’s marking territory boundaries, conveying social status, or signaling reproductive state, the bouquet of urine holds much meaning. 

Deer have 297 million olfactory receptors (human have a measly 5 million for comparison). Olfactory communication is their jam. I dare you to find a hunter that hasn’t been busted by that nose. There is no escaping it so save your money and hope the wind is in your favor. 

There are many examples of how deer use urine and behavior to communicate but today I’m going to focus on rub-urination which is when a deer rubs their tarsal glands together while urinating over them. Urine, glandular secretions, and bacteria mix to form a tell-all perfume. 

For bucks, the frequency of rub-urination increases during the rut. But I’m over talking about bucks and the rut.

The catalyst for this post was not the endlessly talked about rut. It was this cute spotted baby.

Duane captured this fawn rub-urinating right in front of his camera. Rub-urination is not a male-only-reproductive-season activity! ALL deer regardless of age or sex rub-urinate year-round. That’s right females AND fawns rub-urinate. 

Because they are not bucks, there is a dearth of research on rub-urinating in females or fawns. But there is some. For females, rub-urination is more common during nocturnal periods and often associated with termination of bedding. Observations suggest that for females rub-urination is likely more related to season than courtship activities. Unfortunately, no observations were made during fawning season so what role rub-urination plays in post-partum territoriality is unknown. 

But what about fawns? Black-tailed deer fawns two days old have been seen rub-urinating. There is no reason to think white-tail fawns are any different. Eighty percent of nocturnal urinations by fawns were rub-urinations. Rub-urinating occurred after sudden separation from a caregiver for hand-raised fawns. Fawns also attract their mothers and other members of the group by rub-urinating. 

What does all this tell us? Urine even plays a role in relating emotional state! 

Bucks rub-urinate when threatening each other during the rut; females can chase a fawn away by rub-urinating; and fawns can call their mom by peeing their pants. 

Rub-urination is a deer’s answer to a socially stressful situation. Because peeing your pants is a sure-fire way to get your mom to come make everything better. 

-Jeannine Fleegle
Wildlife Biologist
PGC Deer and Elk Section

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