Odocoileus (The American Deer)

Author: James Mitchell

Higher Taxon: Family-Cervidae, Subfamily-Odocoileinae, Tribe-Odocoileini, Genus-Odocoileus

Description: "The Genus Odocoileus (whitetail and mule deer) has brown and grey coats. The two species also has large ears with the mule deer having the largest of the two. They are medium to large in size, slender and high-legged. Each species has many tines coming off the main beam but the mule deer has forks on the ends of each tine. The antlers of this genus are the largest of the subfamily Odocoileinae. This genus is a little smaller than the genus Blastocerus (swamp deer). It is considered to be the second largest genus in size of the subfamily Odocoileinae. The genus Odocoileus is found in the United States, Canada, South America, and Mexico." (Grzimek, 1990).

Species List:

Higher Taxon: Genus Odocoileus

Species (scientific name) Common Name References
Odocoileus virginianus Whitetail deer Weinard, 1997
Odocoileus hemionus Mule deer Grzimek, 1990

Identification Guide:

Species Distinguishing features Food References
Odocoileus virginianus (Whitetail deer) Light color, lively, elegant, large tail with brown on top, white on bottom, antlerts have many tines off the main beam Soft easily digestible plants, berries, fruits, acorns Grzimek, 1990
Odocoileus hemionus (Mule deer) Stocky, mainly grey, large ears, large escutcheon, antlers have more tines than the whitetail deer Soft easily digestible plants, shrubs, bushes Grzimek, 1990

General Information: The genus Odocoileus is a very old one, which had its origin almost four million years ago in southwestern North America. The oldest deer in the world is the whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus).(Grzimek, 1990) Within one million years, the genus has spread from the west to the east of the continent.(Grzimek, 1990) Both species of this genus usually wean their young at about 4 months from suckling. The Odocoileus usually mature sexually at the age of 18 months, but can sexually mature as early as 6 months. The two species in this particular genus average an 8-10 year life span. Under human care, they have been known to live as old as 20 years of age. Hunting for these two species of deer happens every fall of the year. They are hunted in order to control the deer population. If hunting season did not occur, the deer herd would over populate over a period of time. This would cause massive numbers of deer to starve to death because of lack of food. The land can only support so many deer, and the hunters help keep the population of deer in check.


Grzimek, Bernhard. 1990. "Encyclopedia of Mammals", McGraw-Hill Publishing Company. New York , NY. Volume 5. p.200.

Weinard, Daniel Charles. 1997. "Increment Studies of the White-tailed Deer From Coastal Georgia", The University of Georgia Press. Athens, GA . p.112.