The Chinese water deer is a weird mammal living in Europe and Asia. This deer is unusual in a few ways. The first is revealed by the definition of its scientific name, “Hydropotes inermis.” Translated, this literally means “unarmed water drinker.”
Now, “water drinker” may seem a little odd as pretty much all animals drink water. This part of the name comes from the deer’s liking of marshy habitats. It also might seem weird to describe a deer as “unarmed,” I mean, it’s not like most deer carry guns around. This deer actually got that name because they are one of five or so species of deer without antlers!
Instead of antlers, male Chinese water deer have a different hard protrusion from their head, growing in the opposite direction. These are their fangs. In the picture above, you can see one of the deer’s enlarged canine teeth coming out of its mouth.
During the summer, these deer have a reddish-brown coat, but in the winter it changes to a more gray-brown. They have larger, more rounded ears than most deer do, and their heads are also more rounded.
Chinese water deer are one of the smaller species of deer. They are 30 to 39 inches (77-100 cm) long not including their small tail. At the shoulder, they can stand between 18 and 22 inches tall. This is smaller than most labrador retrievers!
Males are larger than the females. They are about 28 pounds (12.5 kg), while females are around 21 pounds (9.5 kg). The largest males can be up to 41 pounds (18.5 kg). The males also have much larger “fangs,” as they are about 3 inches (8 cm) long. This is more than twice the length of the females’.
Diet and feeding
Chinese water deer are herbivores, and unlike most herbivores, they are somewhat picky eaters. They have a good reason for this, though. This animal has a stomach that cannot digest carbohydrates well. Because of this, they need foods that are high in carbohydrates, proteins, and fats so they can get these needed nutrients.
These deer have a diet that consists of vegetables, reeds, and grasses. When eating grass, Chinese water deer prefer the young grasses that don’t have as much fiber and are therefore easier to digest.
Habitat and Range
As its name suggests, this deer lives primarily in China. China is a big country, though, and they inhabit no more than a sixth of it. They live mostly in the eastern portion, not too far north or south. There is also a subspecies that lives in an unconnected range in Korea.
Surprisingly, Chinese water deer also live in England and France. They do not occur here naturally, but they escaped and have been released from zoos. It is estimated that the population in England makes up about ten percent of the world population!
These animals are called Chinese water deer because of the wet areas they inhabit. They are commonly found near marshes, rivers, streams, and swamps. The large amounts of grass in these areas gives them plenty of food and provides good places to hide from predators.
Status and threats
The IUCN Redlist classifies this animal as ‘Vulnerable.’ Their main threats are from humans who hunt them. They are hunted for their meat, but also for a slightly more disturbing reason. The undigested milk in the stomach of the fawns is used in traditional Chinese medicine, so the young are hunted for this reason.
Habitat destruction is also a big threat. None of my sources mentioned specific predators these animals have, but some of them did refer to predators in general. Bears and large cats might be threats in Asia. The adults have no natural predators in England, but the fawns are sometimes hunted by foxes, stoats, and crows.
Reproduction and young
Mating for the Chinese water deer occurs during the winter, an odd time for most animals. It begins in November and lasts until January. In most zoos, however, mating season occurs in May.
During this season, the bucks are extremely territorial, marking their land with piles of dung. If a rival male intrudes, the two males will walk side by side, sizing each other up. If the dominant male is not decided by size, they will fight. Unlike with antlered deer, deaths almost never happen from these fights, but injuries are common.
After a female selects a suitable male and mates, the 170 to 210 day gestation period begins. Most young are born between May and July. Unlike most deer, which only give birth to one to three fawns annually, Chinese water deer may give birth to up to six or even eight young each year! This isn’t normal, and most of the time it is three young.
At birth, the young weigh just over 2 pounds (1 kg). After just an hour they are able to stand on their own, but they spend their first few weeks hiding in grasses and shrubs. Sadly, up to 40% of the fawns die within the first month. At two months old, the fawns that survive have been weened. They are ready to mate by the time the next mating season rolls around. In captivity, these creatures can live up to 13 years.
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- Chinese water deer – Public Domain
- Mystery animal – Public Domain