The white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus
) is Illinois' State Animal. It is found throughout our state and is easily recognized.
In Illinois' early days, Native Americans and settlers depended on the white-tailed deer. They used its meat for food and made clothing and many other items from other parts of the animal. By the mid-1800s, the white-tailed deer was nearly eliminated from the state due to unrestricted hunting. After many years, the Illinois Department of Conservation (now the Illinois Department of Natural Resources) used wildlife management practices to increase the deer population. Today, the white-tailed deer is found in every Illinois county.
The coat of the white-tailed deer is red-brown in summer and gray-brown in winter. The belly, throat and area around the nose are white. The lower side of the tail is also white. The deer raises its tail to show the white part as a warning when danger is near. A young deer (fawn) has a red-brown coat with white spots. The spots disappear after about six months.
The white-tailed deer lives in forested areas, thickets and even cities. It is active mainly at dusk, dawn and at night. It eats a variety of plant materials including twigs, acorns, garden plants, grain and fruits. Deer chew their cud, that is, they can bring up from the stomach food that they chewed once and swallowed to be chewed and swallowed again. Some plant parts are hard to digest, and chewing cud helps to speed up the digestive process.
The male deer (buck) begins growing antlers each spring. At first the antlers are covered with a velvety skin. By early fall, this "velvet" has been rubbed off, and the antlers are hard and smooth. After breeding occurs in late fall and early winter, the antlers fall off. The female deer, called a doe, gives birth to one to three fawns in late spring.