8 Deer Species: Learn About All the Major Deer Species

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Deer are one of the most popular mammals in the world! They are beautiful and graceful creatures that inhabit forests and open areas around the world. Some deer species are even daring to venture into town (but that's no advantage!).

Their family is divided into two subfamilies, which in turn are made up of several deer species and subspecies. We'll start by discussing each family and then move on to the eight major deer species. enjoy!

deer subfamily

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The Cervinae deer subfamily is also known as the Old World deer subfamily.

©iStock.com/Laurens Verhoeven

The Cervinae deer subfamily is also known as the Old World deer subfamily. Some also refer to these deer as plesiometacarpal deer, suggesting that they have only proximal metacarpals.

The subfamily consists of eight genera, each with its own deer species:

  1. Elaphodus genus – a species called tufted deer
  2. Muntjac – 12 species, including Indian and Sumatran muntjacs
  3. Damascus – two species, common fallow deer and Persian fallow deer
  4. Axis genus – four species, including Indian hog deer
  5. Cherry – two extant species, one extinct
  6. Elaphurus genus – a species of deer called Pere David
  7. Rusa genus – four species, including the Visayan sika deer
  8. Deer genus – five species, including elk and red deer

In addition, the subfamily includes 14 extinct deer species.

Capreolinae subfamily

Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) foraging point in an oak forest.
The Capreolinae subfamily is also known as the New World Deer Subfamily.

©Slatan/Shutterstock.com

The Capreolinae subfamily is also known as the New World Deer Subfamily or the Farpaw deer herd. The latter points to the fact that these deer maintain their distal lateral metacarpals.

The subfamily consists of 10 genera, which in turn consist of deer species:

  1. Capreolus genus – two species known as western roe deer and eastern roe deer
  2. Jellyfish – a species called Sambar
  3. Alces genus – a species called moose or Eurasian elk
  4. Rangifer genus – a species called caribou or caribou
  5. Odocoileus genus – three extant species including white-tailed deer and one extinct species
  6. Blastocerus genus – a species called swamp deer
  7. Hippocamelus genus – two species called taruca and South Andean deer
  8. Genus Mazama – 23 species including Gray Chick and Brazilian Chick
  9. Ozotoceros genus – a species called pampas deer
  10. Pudu genus – two species, called northern pudu and southern pudu
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There are also nine extinct genera in this subfamily.

8 major deer species

Since the above two subfamilies consist of eight genera and nine genera respectively, there are currently 17 main species of deer. However, we will only be discussing eight of them – some of the most famous and beloved deer in the world!

1. Muntjac

Muntjac on the grass in the woods.
Muntjac is native to South and Southeast Asia.

© iStock.com/MikeLane45

muntjac
scientific name Muntjac
scientific classification Genus; Deer Subfamily
common name muntjac, barking deer, faceted deer
native to South and Southeast Asia
conservation status Most species are listed as Least Concern; some are listed as Vulnerable (Black Deer), Near Threatened (Borneo Yellow Deer) and Critically Endangered (Giant Deer)

Muntjacs are deer in the genus Muntjac , consisting of 12 recognized species. Native to South and Southeast Asia, these deer are believed to have lived on Earth for approximately 15-35 million years!

These deer live in India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Taiwan, southern China and the Indonesian archipelago. Reeves muntjac is now found in England and Japan. Muntjacs can be found in tropical rainforests, monsoon forests and the lower Himalayas. Most deer live in habitats close to water sources.

The Indian muntjac subspecies is unique in that it is the only diploid mammal in the world with 6 female chromosomes and 7 male chromosomes.

2. Elk

Moulting Animals - Elk
Elk can grow up to 4 feet 11 inches at the shoulder.

© Ghost Bear/Shutterstock.com

Elk
scientific name canada deer
scientific classification Species; Deer Subfamily
common name elk, elk
native to Central and East Asia, and North America
conservation status least of all worries

Elk, also known as red deer, is one of the largest land mammals in North America. This deer species consists of 11 extant subspecies and two extinct subspecies.

These deer live in open deciduous forests, upland swamps, boreal forests, grasslands, and mountains. They can be found from central Asia to East Asia and North America. Elk can grow up to 4 feet 11 inches at the shoulder and 8 feet 10 inches from nose to tail. Male elk are larger and heavier than females.

3. Red deer

A male red deer (Cervus elaphus) in Munich, Bavaria, Germany.
The largest red deer are in the Carpathian Mountains of Central Europe.

© Karl Moor/Creative Commons

red deer
scientific name red deer
scientific classification Species; Deer Subfamily
common name stag: stag or stag; doe: rear
distribute Europe, West Asia, Anatolia, Iran
conservation status least of all worries

The term "red deer" refers to red deer , which in turn consists of about 13 subspecies. The aforementioned American elk was once considered a subspecies of elk, but was eventually established as a separate species.

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These ruminants are the fourth largest living deer on Earth. Their size depends on their distribution. For example, the largest red deer are in the Carpathian Mountains of Central Europe. However, if we were to discuss an average, we'd say that male red deer grow to about 98 inches (without tail) and weigh 530 pounds. Female red deer are smaller, measuring 83 inches long and weighing up to 370 pounds. Their tails may add another 4-7 inches to overall body length.

4. Fawn

Female fawn deer, Dama Dama, in an autumn field.
The fallow deer consists of two species: the European fallow deer and the Persian fallow deer.

©WildMedia/Shutterstock.com

deer
scientific name malaysia
scientific classification Genus; Deer subfamily
common name Fawn, Common Fawn, European Fawn, Persian Fawn
native to European Fawn: Turkey, and possibly the Italian peninsula, the Balkans, and Rhodes; Persian Fawn: throughout the Middle East
conservation status European fallow deer: Least Concern Persian fallow deer: Endangered

The common name for the genus Dama is "fawn," and it consists of two species: Dama dama (European fallow deer) and Dama mesopotamica (Persian fallow deer). Male Fawns are approximately 55-63 inches long and 33-37 inches tall at the shoulder, while females are slightly smaller at 51-59 inches long and 30-33 inches tall. In terms of weight, though, males are considerably heavier, reaching 220 pounds, while females rarely exceed 110 pounds.

The Persian Fawn can be found in Tamarix, Pistachio, and Oak Forests. They are similar in appearance to European deer except that they have fewer palmate antlers.

Since 2008, the Persian fawn has been listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. Their conservation story goes back a long way, and many efforts have been made to preserve their populations.

5. Reindeer

reindeer horns
Caribou are the only deer herd whose females have antlers.

© Jeff McGraw/Shutterstock.com

reindeer
scientific name reindeer
scientific classification Species; Subfamily Capreolinae
common name reindeer, caribou
native to Arctic, subarctic, boreal, tundra, and mountain regions of North America, Siberia, and Northern Europe
conservation status vulnerable

Reindeer are known as caribou in North America. There are currently 14 recognized subspecies of reindeer, two of which are extinct. Caribou are the only deer herd whose females have antlers. The color of the fur varies by subspecies, location and season. For example, northern deer are smaller and have lighter fur. Southern deer are larger in size and darker in color.

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These deer are typically 64-81 inches long and 180-260 pounds. Male reindeer are larger than females. Another unique feature of reindeer is their vision. Research has shown that reindeer can see light with wavelengths as short as 320 nm (like the ultraviolet range), which helps them survive in the Arctic.

6. Whitetail deer

A whitetail deer standing in a meadow
Whitetail deer typically weigh between 150 and 300 pounds.

©Paul Tessier/Shutterstock.com

whitetail deer
scientific name Virginia roundtail
scientific classification Species; Subfamily Capreolinae
common name whitetail deer, whitetail deer, virginia deer
native to North America, Central America, South America
conservation status least of all worries

Whitetail deer are the best known and most common in North America. However, these deer have been introduced to other areas such as New Zealand and Europe. They live east of the Rocky Mountains, southwestern Arizona, and Mexico in North America. Most whitetail deer are located in Texas. To be more precise, Texas is home to approximately 5.3 million deer!

The Odocoileus virginianus species is divided into 26 subspecies, 17 of which are found in North America.

These deer have a gray-brown coat in the fall and winter and a reddish-brown coat in the spring and summer. The most distinctive feature of the whitetail is its tail, which is white on the underside. It raises its tail when it is frightened or feels threatened.

Whitetail deer typically weigh between 150 and 300 pounds, with males being larger than females.

7. Roe deer

Roe deer with weeds around the antlers.
Roe deer prefer to live above the treeline and in open agricultural areas.

© Soru Epotok/Shutterstock.com

roe deer
scientific name marmoset
scientific classification Species; Subfamily Capreolinae
common name Roe, Western Roe, European Roe; Roe Roe: Roe deer
distribute Europe
conservation status least of all worries

Roe deer are a smaller species that can easily survive cold and harsh environments as their bodies have adapted to this habitat. Additionally, they prefer to live above the treeline and in open agricultural areas. However, if they are looking for food, they will search almost all habitats and then retreat to dense woodlands to rest.

Most roe deer grow to 4 feet 5 inches and 2 feet 2 inches at the shoulder. They usually weigh between 35 and 75 pounds. However, there is one small exception: Kazakh roe deer are larger than most roe deer.

Bucks' antlers can reach 8-10 inches long and usually have two or three points. Some unique bucks develop four points.

8. Moose

moose
Moose live in hardwood, mixed and boreal forests in the northern hemisphere.

©iStock.com/Ondrej Prosicky

moose
scientific name moose
scientific classification Species; Subfamily Capreolinae
common name Moose in North America and Elk in Eurasia
distribute Alaska, Canada, New England, New York State, Baltic States, Kazakhstan, Poland, Russia
conservation status least of all worries

Moose are the heaviest and largest deer species in existence. The moose's most distinctive feature is its broad, palm-shaped antlers. In contrast, other deer have branch-like antlers. They live in broadleaf, mixed and boreal forests in the northern hemisphere.

Moose have double coats. They are approximately 4.6 – 6.9 inches tall at the shoulder, so are larger than elk (wapiti). Males can weigh up to 1,543 pounds, while females are not as heavy as they rarely exceed 1,000 pounds.

Next:

  • Deer Lifespan: How Long Do Deer Live?
  • How do deer keep warm in winter?
  • Florida Reef Deer: Here's What Makes Them So Special

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featured image

sika deer
Herd of deer, Japanese sika deer, sika deer or Manchurian sika deer. Family, adult male, female and fawn looking directly at the camera in autumn meadow.

© Martin Mecnarowski/Shutterstock.com


about the author

jeremiah wright


I have seven years of professional experience in the content field, focusing on nature and wildlife. Besides writing, I also enjoy surfing the Internet and listening to music.

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source
  1. Science, available here: https://www.science.org/doi/abs/10.1126/science.168.3937.1364
  2. Wikipedia, available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capreolinae
  3. Wikipedia, available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cervinae