To start things off with the very basics, let's answer the question - What are antlers?
Many people think that antlers are a deer's horns, but horns are made from hair-like tissue that grows over the animals' bony center. Antlers are made up of calcium and phosphorus, making them a true bone. Every year, deer shed and regrow their antlers from pedicels that are located on the front bone of the skull. A deer will not grow their first set of antlers until they are about a year old.
Why are some deer antlers furry and velvety?There are two types of antlers, hard and velvet. The ones that look 'hairy' are the velvet kind. Those are covered with a thin skin that has hair on it. Velvet antlers are antlers that are still growing. When the antlers are done growing, the velvet falls off. Most people believe that is why the deer rub their antlers against trees, to get the velvet off. This is false. The velvet usually falls off in a single day and is sometimes eaten by the deer.
Do females have antlers?Yes, female deer, also known as does, can have antlers. This happens when the doe has testosterone. These deer can still reproduce. Does with hard antlers are almost always male pseudohermaphrodites, which means they were born female and later developed male sex characteristics.
First, the pedicleThere are two parts to the antlers: the pedicle and the antlers themselves. The pedicle is the stumps that the antlers grow off of. The pedicle does not fall off when the antlers do each year because they are permanently attached to the deer's head. This part grows while the deer is still a fawn. However, if the deer do not have enough testosterone or they have estrogen, it will not grow pedicles. If a deer doesn't grow pedicles, then they will not grow antlers when they get older. As the deer gets older, the pedicle becomes wider which allows the antlers to grow larger.
Young antlersWhen they are about 6 or 7 months old, the fawns will have pedicles with a small button of antlers that are usually a half inch or so long. These young antlers are the starting point of a maturing deer. This usually happens around the deer's first winter. However, if a deer is slow in developing, this can be delayed until the next spring or even summer.
Growing deer, or elk antlers
Multiple factors can affect the rate of growth every year. The buck's endocrine system controls the growth, hardening, casting and the regrowth of the antlers. This system is affected by the amount of daylight the deer are exposed to. This means that as the days grow longer in the north, the testosterone levels are lower, slowing the changing process of the antlers.
When the antlers finally fully mature, they start the regeneration process. After maturing, they die and fall off of the deer. This usually happens in the winter months. However, some deer can keep them as late as April. It all depends on the deer's age and health. At first, there is an expose 'wound' left over from the fallen antlers. A small layer of skin grows back over the pedicles. The rate of regrowth varies from deer to deer and year to year.
Average northern deer show signs of regrowth around early April. As they regrow, the antlers are easily damaged and soft. Once the tips of the antler begin to grow in, that is when they start to harden.The larger the antler will be, the faster it will grow. Then, when the new antlers are fully matured again, the velvet sheds. This usually happens around August.
The size of a deer's antlers is determined by three factors: genetics, nutrition, and age.
Researchers in Texas Parks and Wildlife Department did studies and determined that the characteristics of antlers are passed down from generation to generation. However, the next factor could alter the characteristics minorly or majorly.
A Deer's Health impacts its Antler Growth
A deer's diet strongly affects the size of their antlers, and sometimes it will determine if they will grow any antlers at all. If a deer is not getting the proper nutrients that they need, they will grow antlers later, have small antlers, shed the velvet later, and they will fall off early. More information is needed to determine the exact link of their nutritional diet to the size and growth speed of their antlers. It is noted that the larger deer have the biggest antlers.
While the antlers are regrowing, the deer's body is depleted of important nutrients to stimulate antler growth. This means that while the antlers are growing, the ribs, skull and other bones become weaker and lose calcium and phosphorus. The diet does not affect this change. Even bucks with healthy diets still lose those minerals in their body while growing their antlers.
Deer Age Plays a Factor in Antler Growth
The whitetail male deer usually reach adult size when they are 5 or 6 years old. After that, their antlers generally do not increase in size each year. They also grow back the same shape, or close to it, every regrowth. Then, as the buck begins to become older and they get closer to death, their antlers will become smaller and sometimes more deformed, similar to other deer with poor nutrition.
What are your thoughts on how deer antlers grow? We'd love to hear your comments below.