Why do deer grow antlers

There’s nothing that can beat seeing a fully grown stag bellowing in mist of a sunrise; particularly at this time of year when many deer are getting ready to rut.

It has to be said, stags are far less impressive when they’re without their charismatic antlers. Those who’ve held an antler will know that carrying around that weight on your head must take some effort. So what’s the point in growing them in the first place?

Red deer
A red deer bellowing at sunrise © Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

 

You could be forgiven for thinking that antlers are grown to be used in self-defence (and certainly, for many species that is a secondary function.) In reality the main reason for growing such strange protrusions lies in interactions with other deer of the same species. Unlike horns, which are permanent features and in many species are made mostly out of keratin, antlers are made almost entirely of bone, with a thin velvet of tissue which supplies blood and nutrients to them.

They need this constant nutrient supply because antlers are one of the fastest growing types of tissue in all mammals. And after all of that effort is put into growing them, they will be shed and then re-grown every year.

 

This male roe deer has been spotted by our trail cameras, hanging out near one of the badger sett entrances. Unlike other British deer, the mating season for roe is during summer months, so it will soon be time for this male to shed his antlers and begin growing a new set.  Video © Scottish Wildlife Trust.

Many people think that the size and shape of an antler is a way to tell its age; this is not always strictly true. Because they are so costly to grow, antler size actually varies depending on how “fit” the male deer is. So really that’s whether he’s healthy, mature, able to get enough food and importantly, whether he would make a good father.

When rutting season comes, antler size and quality are a clear indicator to female deer to help find a suitable mate. They also help reduce the amount of injury and deaths from fighting between males (surprisingly) as they are a clear sign of hierarchical dominance. This is not to say that males will not use them to fight each other for females! The locking of antlers normally happens when each male has displayed and neither backed down.

Becca Wilson (Falls of Clyde Seasonal Ranger)

Help protect Scotland’s wildlife

Our work to save Scotland’s wildlife is made possible thanks to the generosity of our members and supporters.

Join today from just £3 a month to help protect the species you love.

Join today


Preface

There’s nothing that can beat seeing a fully grown stag bellowing in mist of a sunrise; particularly at this time of year when many deer are getting ready to rut. …

Posted in

Blogs -

Stay up to date with the Scottish Wildlife Trust by subscribing to our mailing list 

Back to top