White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are EVERYWHERE in New Jersey, and I spotted a small group of about (4 adults + 1 juvenile) this past weekend. This is hardly noteworthy, given that I see more dead deer beside the road than I do live ones most days, but it got me thinking about deer with some formidable dentition. Indeed, the idea of a deer having fangs is a bit absurd, but they do in fact exist. Here’s a photo I took of a Muntjac (aka Fanged Deer) in captivity;
This little critter is an artiodactyl belonging to the Family Cervidae, and the males have characteristic fangs that make them easily identifiable. There are larger “primitve” deer animals in Asia (which are bred and hunted for their musk glands, used in perfume) belonging to the Family Moschidae; the Musk Deer. There are 4 species, all belonging to the genus Moschus, and much like the little Muntjac, the males have characteristic fangs growing from their upper lip, but even more impressive than that of their smaller relatives.
This photo of a Musk Deer skull gives you some idea of have impressive their dentition is. Like the common white-tailed deer, they lack teeth at the front of the upper jaw (with the exception of their huge fang, which seems to grow very far back into the skull). Here’s a picture of a Musk Deer in life, looking more like something you’d expect to see in the film Ice Age rather than an extant mammal. Indeed, neither sex grows antlers and they do not travel in groups, this reference citing that males use their fangs in fighting. I’ve never seen such a spectacle, so it is a little difficult to imagine just how such a confrontation would take place. Another photo of a Musk Deer munching on some vegetation in Russia can be found here as well.
I would love to write in more detail about these animals and their evolutionary relationships, but I lack the resources to do anything more than just a cursory write-up at the moment. I expect I’ll be covering these interesting mammals again should I come across more information.