deer are classified as a subspecies of the much larger
Virginia white-tailed deer. The Key deer is
the smallest of the 28 subspecies of Virginia white-tailed deer.
Bucks stand from 28 inches to 32 inches at the shoulder
and weigh an average of 80 pounds. Does range from
24 inches to 28 inches at the shoulder and weigh an average of 65 pounds.
Key deer's small size is believed to be an
adaptation to ensure greater survival in a hot climate where
there is limited food and water.
It's believed Key deer
probably migrated from the mainland thousands of years
ago during the last glacial period when a land bridge
existed, then were isolated as the sea rose to create the stepping stone
of islands known as the Florida Keys.
A shipwrecked Spanish explorer named Fontaneda recorded the first account
of Key deer. The deer were considered a naturally occurring
species by both Spaniards and Indians, who hunted the animals
Key deer were never very widely distributed throughout the region due
to the lack of fresh water. In 1922, they reportedly
ranged from Duck Key to Key West, a distance of 60 linear miles. Today,
their range is only about 6 miles, from Johnson Keys to Saddlebunch
Keys, with about three-quarters of the herd centered on Big
Pine Key and No Name
In summer, the wet season, the does will sometimes swim to other keys
that have limited amounts of water for fawning purposes. One doe, in
fact, was recorded swimming almost a half-mile back
to Big Pine daily for fresh water, then returning to her fawn on a nearby
help increase year-round habitat on some of these outer islands, Key
deer refuge personnel have dug water holes and put
out "guzzlers" which hold 500 to 1,000 gallons of rain water.
Sometimes the deer have taken advantage of these improvements, sometimes
they have avoided them because something apparently
was missing from the habitat (something we humans still can't identify).
to their isolation, Key deer have evolved
in several special ways.
Key deer's only predator is man's best friend, the
dog. Refuge officials have dealt with this problem
effectively and efficiently by enforcing the county leash law.
Even so, either through lack of cooperation or by mistake, dogs do sometimes
get free, and a couple of deer are usually killed annually by canine
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