Key Deer Habits and Habitat - Key Deer Facts Information

Key Deer
Habits and Habitat






Florida Everglades

Small Living Space Helped Shrink the Key Deer

Key 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.

The 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 for food.

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 Key.

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 island.

To 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).

Due to their isolation, Key deer have evolved in several special ways.

The 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 each year by canine pets

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