Male White-tailed Deer grow a new pair of antlers every year starting when they are one year old. The size of the antlers depends on the age of the deer, genetics, and diet. Before antlers actually appear, structures called pedicles that connect the antlers to the skull develop. Growth of the actual antlers begins in March or April and as more nutritious food becomes more available during May and June antlers grow more rapidly.
Antlers are one of the fastest growing bones that exist; growth is regulated by hormones which are controlled by the photoperiod, or length of day . Yearling antlers can grow about 1/8-inch a day during the summer, and adults as much as 1/4th of an inch. While they are growing, antlers are covered with a layer of tissue called “velvet” which is dense with blood vessels that carry nutrients to the antlers. In August the supply of blood to the velvet diminishes and the antlers begin to harden. By September the velvet has dried and is falling off. Antlers are used as weapons during rut, or the mating season, after which they fall to the ground, providing a valuable source of calcium and phosphorus for rodents. (Photo by Erin Donahue)
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