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White-tailed Deer Molting

The signs of fall are plentiful – skeins of migrating geese, disappearing insects, falling leaves.  Another transformation that takes place in the fall (as well as spring) with White-tailed Deer and other mammals is the molting of a summer coat and the growing in of a winter coat.

The thinner summer coat of a White-tailed Deer consists of shorter, reddish hair.   The shorter length of the hair allows the deer’s body heat to easily escape and the light color reflects rather than retains warmth from the sun.  Come fall, deer molt the rusty red hairs of summer, and replace them with a coat consisting of longer, darker hairs. This grayish-brown hair is warmer and absorbs more of the sun’s warmth. A spring molt occurs in reverse.

The process of molting happens relatively fast and is often completed within two to three weeks.  During this period, deer can look a bit ragged (see photo), as both the red summer hairs as well as the brown winter hairs are evident. If you see a deer at this time, it’s easy to assume that such a deer has mange, but it is just the way a seasonal molt takes place. (Photo by Erin Donahue)

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5 responses

  1. Bill on the Hill

    Good looking deer Mary & a lovely photograph… A couple nights back something caught my eye outside the bathroom window at well into dusk, not quite pitch black. It was a pair of eyes looking right at me, upon closer examination I soon realized there were ( 5 ) does eating the lush green grass over the leech field! ( 3 ) full growns & ( 2 ) youngsters…
    Love the Fall season… :~)

    October 19, 2020 at 7:30 am

    • Hi Bill! Lucky you to have a field of these beautiful ladies!

      October 19, 2020 at 2:09 pm

  2. Alice

    I didn’t know that about their lighter/darker fur color.

    October 19, 2020 at 8:04 am

  3. Very interesting. I had always thought that they just added more fur hairs – didn’t realize they also shed the summer fur, though of course, that makes more sense.
    I love how there are sooooo many things I never knew, and very often, you offer new facts for my brain to marvel about each day! Thanks!!

    October 19, 2020 at 9:46 am

    • Thank you, Dell. I completely forgot to mention that the deer’s winter hairs are hollow, to aid in insulation!

      October 19, 2020 at 2:08 pm

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