The Key Deer is related to the Virginia white-tailed deer. They live on Big Pine Key and the surrounding keys in Florida. The Key deer are the smallest of all the white-tailed deer. They are not found anywhere else in the world. The Key Deer's height is between 24 and 28 inches and they weigh about 45 to 65 pounds. Bucks may weigh 55 to 75 pounds and only the males have antlers.
Antlers are dropped February through March. They re-grow their antlers almost immediately so that by June, bucks with two inch stubs are seen. Antler growth is completed by August, and velvet is rubbed off by early September.
Key Deer feed on native plants, such as red, black, and white mangrove, thatch palm berries, and over 150 different kinds of plants that grow in the Keys. They can have some small amount of salt in their water, and will drink brackish water, but fresh water is needed for their survival.
Breeding season for Key deer begins in September and decreases gradually through November and December. The mothers carry their babies about 204 days. Fawns are born April through June. At birth, a fawn weighs 2 to 4 pounds.
No records exist to tell us where the Key Deer originally came from. It is believed that the deer migrated to the Keys from the mainland many thousands of years ago, across a long land bridge. As the Wisconsin glacier melted, the sea rose dividing the land bridge into small islands known as the Florida Keys. The earliest mention of Key Deer is found in the memoirs of Fontaneda, a shipwrecked Spaniard held captive by the local Indians. Records tell that the deer were found around Key West and were used as food by the residents and ship crews.
Due to uncontrolled hunting and habitat destruction the numders of Key Deer were estimated at less than 50 in the 1940's, putting them on the endangered list. With the opening of the National Key Deer Refuge in 1957, and new laws, the population has gone up and they are no longer in danger. Their numbers are now estimated at 250 to 300 deer. and two-thirds of them live in the Big Pine Key area.
The Key Deer lives in the mangrove swamp habitat.
By Austin R.