Whitetails (Odocoileus virginianus): State National and Provincial Symbols in New and Old Worlds

by DerdriuMarriner

New World natives with a homeland stretching across North America and South America, white-tailed deer are honored as national, provincial, and state symbols.

New World natives with worldwide appeal, white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) received their official description from an encounter with the fleet mammal by a German traveler in the Colony of Virginia in 1780.

Whitetails have been transplanted successfully outside of their native range elsewhere in the New World:
• in Oceania in the first decade of the twentieth century.

Successful introductions into the Old World include transplants in:
• Central Bohemian Region of modern-day Czech Republic in the 1890s, and
• Pirkanmaa Province (Pirkanmaan maakunta) in southwestern Finland in 1934.

Twentieth and twenty-first century acknowledgments of whitetails as significant dwellers of economic and environmental landscapes include New World and Old World recognition as governmental symbols on state, provincial, and national levels.

As vegetarians, whitetails seek food in forests and meadows; gardens are opportunistic sources:

whitetail trio, grasslands of USFWS National Conservation Training Center, West Virginia
Shepherdstown, Eastern Panhandle, northeastern West Virginia
Shepherdstown, Eastern Panhandle, northeastern West Virginia


Odocoileus virginianus is commonly known as white-tailed deer, whitetail, or Virginia deer. Its genus name, Odocoileus, was devised in 1832 by linguistic-scientific polymath Constantine Samuel Rafinesque (October 22, 1783 - September 18, 1840) to apply to a genus of medium-sized deer in the family Cervidae with two species native to the Americas.

Odocoileus is derived from two Greek words, ὀδούς, odous, “tooth” and κοῖλος, koilos, “hollow”. The genus name refers to depressions in the crown of deer's molar teeth.

Its species name, virginianus, was assigned by German geographer and zoologist Eberhard August Wilhelm von Zimmermann (August 17, 1743 - July 4, 1815), who first saw white-tailed deer in 1780 in Virginia.


Central American White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus truei): a subspecies native to Costa Rica and Nicaragua

Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio (Manuel Antonio Park), central Pacific coast, Costa Rica
Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio (Manuel Antonio Park), central Pacific coast, Costa Rica

Native distribution: diverse geographical expanses


Whitetails are New World natives whose homeland stretches northward in North America into Canada and southward in South America into Peru and a small part of Bolivia.

In Canada whitetails are native to Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, southern Quebec, southern Ontario, and south-central Manitoba. Their expansion westwards into Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia occurred in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Their native geography encompasses all of the continental United States except for Utah and the southwestern coast of California. Whitetails are not native to Alaska, Hawaii, or Puerto Rico.

Whitetails are native throughout Mexico with the exception of the northernmost and westernmost state, Baja California (Estado Libre y Soberano de Baja California), as well as throughout all seven Central American countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama.

On the South American continent, whitetails are native to northern and central Colombia, most of Venezuela, French Guiana, most of Suriname and Guyana, and the states of Amapá and Pará in northeastern Brazil. Disjunct, or separate, populations are native to coastal and eastern Peru and in a small northwestern sector of La Paz Department in northwestern Bolivia (Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia).


epitome of graceful athleticism

white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus Zimmerman
white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus Zimmerman

Ideal habitat: woods for sheltering, fields or meadows for grazing, leaping and running


In their native distribution from Canada in the north to Bolivia in the south, whitetails are acclimated to widely varietal habitats. Their ideal habitats balance the shelter of dense thickets or woodlands with the food sources of edges, such as fields and meadows. Nevertheless, their habitats vary with the terrain. Thus, in the United States they inhabit the deep woods of northern Maine, the cactus and thornbrush deserts of southern Texas and Mexico, and the deep saw grass and hammock swamps of Florida.


White-tailed deer are often seen along the Long Pine Key Nature Trail in the South Florida pine rocklands of Everglades National Park, Broward County

" South Florida rocklands in the Everglades, Florida"
" South Florida rocklands in the Everglades, Florida"

Externals: What white-tailed deer look like



Northern whitetail populations tend to be larger and heavier than southern populations. Whitetails have an average body length of 5 to 6-1/2 feet (1.5 to 2 meters). Their tails measure 4 to 11 inches (10 to 28 centimeters). Their height at the shoulders reaches between 31 to 39 inches (80 to 100 centimeters).

Newborns weigh about 3.5 to 7.5 pounds (1.5 to 3.5 kilograms). Adult males in northern U.S. populations weigh 220 to 330 pounds (100 to 150 kilograms) while their central and southern U.S. counterparts weigh 110 to 220 pounds (50 to 100 kilograms). Florida Keys males average 79 pounds (36 kilograms) while Central and South American whitetails rarely weigh over 110 pounds (50 kilograms).



Adult coats vary in color seasonally, with red brown dominating in summer and fading to grey brown in winter.

Whitened fur encircles their eyes and sprays over the chin, throat, and upper insides of the legs. A band of white is located behind the nose. The inside of the ears, their belly, and the underside of the tail are also splashed with white.

Fawns, or young deer, which are born in the spring, have red brown or yellow brown coats spotted, like bleached freckles, with white. Their distinctive spots gradually fade so uniform coloring appears between 3 to 5 months of age. A yearling is a young deer that has completed its first year of life.

White tail held high, danger is nigh!


Northern (woodland) white-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus borealis), female with tail up

Shirley's Bay, southeastern Ontario, east central Canada
Shirley's Bay, southeastern Ontario, east central Canada



Deer hooves leave tracks reminiscent of split hearts. The pointed end of the track points to the direction in which the deer is heading.



Bucks, or adult male deer, are distinguished by impressive antlers, which appear in April or May and are shed from January to March. The size and branching of antlers are determined by such factors as age, genetics, injury, and food quality and quantity. Healthy, full branching, therefore, indicates that the buck is securing sufficient, good nutrition. The densest antlers usually are produced between the ages of 4-1/2 and 6-1/2 years of age.

Nubbins are skin-covered bumps on the forehead which may emerge in male fawns around six months after birth. These nubbins eventually grow into hard antlers when males are halfway between their first and second years of life.

Spikes are unbranched antlers, which may be seen in yearlings, that is, deer
between one to two years of age.


velvet antlers: vascular skin on growing antlers supplies nutrients and oxygen to bone

Georgian Bay, Parry Sound, Georgian Bay's eastern shore, northern Ontario, east central Canada
Georgian Bay, Parry Sound, Georgian Bay's eastern shore, northern Ontario, east central Canada



White-tailed deer are swift, bounding easily over 9-foot-high barriers and attaining running speeds of up to 30 miles per hour through tangled forest terrain and swimming speeds of 13 miles per hour. Agile and lithe, whitetails easily clear heights up to 8-1/2 feet (2.6 meters) and clear about 30 feet (9 meters) in a horizontal bound.



Although a maximum life span of 20 years is possible in the wild, it is estimated that most white-tailed deer only live for two to three years and a 10-year-old deer is a rarity.

A whitetail's age is determined from its teeth.


fawn in national wildlife refuge

"white-tailed deer fawn"
"white-tailed deer fawn"


Offspring: birthing of fawns

Does produce one litter per year. Gestation lasts about seven months. Over their native range, whitetail does give birth from April to September. In North America, birthing occurs in the late spring, from May to early June.

Normally only one fawn is produced in a doe's first litter. Subsequent litters usually produce twins. Occasionally but rarely triplets or quadruplet births occur.

After the first year, young males separate from their mothers while young females often remain for another year with their mothers.



Vulnerability of does and fawns is especially high during weaning, which stretches for eight to ten weeks after birth. In the first month, fawns may be left in hiding places in dense vegetation for about four hours at a time while does search for food. In the case of twins or more, each fawn is set up in a separate hiding place.

After four weeks, fawns forage alongside their mothers. As ruminants (Latin: ruminare, "to chew the cud"), whitetails have stomachs divided into four compartments; accordingly, whitetails temporarily store undigested food for a later time to be regurgitated and chewed properly. Two months after birth fawns are fully ruminant.


white-tailed doe, with tail flagged for danger, gliding through shallow water

Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Chariton County, north central Missouri
Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Chariton County, north central Missouri


Natural diet: vegetarians

Whitetails require a nearby water source for their natural diet.

As herbivores (Latin: herba, "small plant, herb" + vorare, "to devour"), whitetails are vegetarians. Their natural diet focuses on fungi, grass, leaves, lichens, nuts, plants, and twigs. Green plants, including aquatic plants, have their attention in summer. Food sources shift in autumn to corn and nuts. Woody vegetation, including twigs, are featured in winter.

When their habitat overlaps tightly with human inhabitants, whitetails graze on crops, fruit trees, ornamental plants, and vegetable gardens, often to the annoyance of farmers and gardeners.


whitetail, sipping waters of Pohick Creek:

a tributary stream of Potomac River popular with whitewater kayakers
northern Virginia
northern Virginia


Daily consumption:

A whitetail consumes about 5 to 9 pounds (2.25 to 4 kilograms) in food daily. About 0.88 ounces for every pound (25 grams for every kilogram) of body weight is the daily requirement in summer. About 0.7 ounces for every pound (20 grams for every kilogram) of body weight is necessary in winter.


Synecology: natural predators

Synecology (Greek: σύν, syn, “with” + oικoλoγία, ecologia, “house” + “study”) identifies organisms which regularly coexist with white-tailed deer in their native habitats. Regular cohabitants include natural predators, which represent the carnivorous trophic (Greek: τροφή, trophē, "food, feeding") level in the food chain.

Natural predators in North America include humans, bears (family Ursidae), coyotes (Canis latrans), grey wolves (Canis lupus), and mountain lions (Puma concolor).

In South America whitetails are preyed upon by jaguars (genus Panthera), ocelots (Leopardus pardalis), and forest foxes (Cerdocyon thous).


Universal familiarity: memorable images everywhere

The grace of whitetails and the majesty of white-tailed bucks are familiar images throughout the world. This familiarity is perhaps due to Walt Disney's beloved film, "Bambi," but it is certainly due to successful introductions of these magnificent mammals elsewhere in the world.

Whitetails were successfully introduced in the 1890s into the Dobříš Forest in the Central Bohemian Region (Czech: Středočeský kraj) of modern-day Czech Republic.

Whitetails from New Hampshire were successfully transplanted around 1905 onto Stewart Island (Maori: Rakiura, "Glowing Skies"), located south of South Island (Maori: Te Wai Pounamu, "water of greenstone [jade]") the larger of New Zealand's two major islands. A second herd was subsequently established at the head of Lake Wakatipu in South Island's southern region of Otago.

Transplanted to Pirkanmaa Province (Pirkanmaan maakunta) in southwestern Finland in 1934, whitetails are recognized as the provincial animal there.


white-tailed deer, Muurla, Finland Proper Region (Varsinais-Suomen maakunta), southwestern Finland

southwestern Finland
southwestern Finland

Governmental symbols: popular as a national, provincial, and state animal


In the United States, the white-tailed deer serves as a state symbol for eleven states:

  • Arkansas (state animal, 1993),
  • Illinois (state animal, 1982),
  • Michigan (state animal, 1997),
  • Mississippi (state animal, 1974),
  • Nebraska (state animal, 1981),
  • New Hampshire (state animal, 1983)
  • Ohio (state animal, 1988),
  • Oklahoma (state game animal, 1990),
  • Pennsylvania (state animal, 1959),
  • South Carolina (state animal, 1972),
  • Wisconsin (state wildlife animal, 1957).

The first state to recognize whitetails was Wisconsin, where momentum for designating the badger (Taxidea taxus) as the state animal was countered by a bill introduced by the state's northern countries proposing whitetails instead. Wisconsin's large native deer population, the whitetail's physical attributes, and the economic benefits accrued from the annual deer hunt were all extolled. A compromise was reached on May 31, 1957, with the establishment of a second category, as state wildlife animal, for white-tailed deer.


Wisconsin's state wildlife animal: white-tailed fawn

Oneida County, north central Wisconsin
Oneida County, north central Wisconsin


Pennsylvania became the first state to give sole recognition to whitetails as the state animal on October 2, 1959. Poetic recognition of the legislative decision was entered on October 2, 1959:

"The whitetail deer is an animal that is found in abundance in the wooded areas of our Commonwealth and has played an integral part in solving the problem of survival of our early settlers and Indian population. The 'whitetail,' as it is affectionately referred to, is a proud and noble animal possessing intelligence, endurance and character. Therefore, the 'whitetail deer' is selected, designated and adopted as the official State animal of this Commonwealth."                 (71 Pennsylvania Statues § 1007. State Animal)


Ohio's state animal: doe with nursing fawn

Newark, Licking County, central Ohio
Newark, Licking County, central Ohio


The most recent designation of whitetails as state animal occurred with the enactment on June 11, 1997 of Michigan Public Act 15. A first analysis of House bill 4162, State Game Mammal: White-tailed Deer, on May 1, 1997, presented the salient pros and cons of white-tailed deer in proximity to human environments, opposing viewpoints which are echoed throughout much of the whitetails' native territory.

  • As "one of the most majestic mammals in Michigan," whitetails attract photographers and nature lovers as well as economy-boosting deer hunters.
  • Contrarily, as "one of the most destructive mammals in the state," whitetails damage millions of dollars' worth of crops annually, which highlights the importance of deer hunter harvests. 

Nevertheless, the designation was clinched, and the "widely hunted" joined the roster of Michigan state symbols.

Two other countries in whitetails' native range also have selected this deer as an official symbol.

  • On June 28, 1993, the Republic of Honduras (República de Honduras) designated venado cola blanca, the white-tailed deer, as their national animal in Decree 36-93.
  • In 2001 the prairie province of Saskatchewan in central Canada officially adopted the white-tailed deer as their animal emblem.


Michigan's state animal: white-tailed deer, keeping cool in 95°F (35°C) weather by skimming through pond.

competent and graceful in water, whitetails easily swim at a speed of 10 mph (16kph)
Seney National Wildlife Refuge, Upper Peninsula, Michigan
Seney National Wildlife Refuge, Upper Peninsula, Michigan



Prior to European Colonialism, which began in the sixteenth century, white-tailed deer, as New World natives, were unknown mammals beyond the eastern and western shores of the continents of North America and South America.

By the early decades of the twentieth century, however, whitetails had become familiar outside their native homelands in disparate New and Old World places.

Modern-day recognition of whitetails as familiar mammals on the world stage has been affirmed through adoption of these fleet representatives of wildlife as governmental symbols in their native lands as well as abroad.

One of the New World's many best-kept secrets has become a household name on a global scale.


freckled white-tailed fawn in wooded habitat

Oneida County, Wisconsin
Oneida County, Wisconsin



My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.


White-tailed fawn: a mammal dwelling in varied habitats, including snow

Berwyn, Chester County, southeastern Pennsylvania
Berwyn, Chester County, southeastern Pennsylvania

Sources Consulted


Armstrong, Bill. Understanding Spike Buck Harvest: Twenty-six Years of Penned Deer Research at the Kerr Wildlife Management Area. Texas Parks & Wildlife Publications. May 2002.

  • Available at: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_rp_w7000_0827.pdf

Dewey, Tanya, and Animal Diversity Web Staff. 2003. “Odocoileus virginanus.” Animal Diversity Web (Online).

  • Available at: http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Odocoileus_virginianus.html

Geist, Valerius. Deer of the World: Their Evolution, Behaviour, and Ecology. Shrewsbury UK: Swan Hill Press, 1999.

Homolka, Miloslav, Marta Heroldová, and Luděk Bartoš. “White-tailed deer winter feeding strategy in area shared with other deer species.” Folia Zooliga, Volume 57 Issue 3 (2008): 283-293.

  • Available at: http://www.ivb.cz/folia/57/3/283_293.pdf

Kays, Jonathan S., Lisa Curtis, and Michael V. Bartlett. “Wildlife Damage Management: Resistance of Ornamentals to Deer Damage.” Fact Sheet 655. University of Maryland College Park-Eastern Shore Cooperative Extension.

  • Available at: http://www.icwdm.org/Publications/pdf/Deer/UMD_resistdeerdamage.pdf 

“Odocoileus virginianus – White-tailed deer.” Living Organisms. Wildpro: The Electronic Encyclopaedia and Library for Wildlife.

  • Available at: http://usgs.wildlifeinformation.org/s/0m_artiodactyl/cervidae/odocoileus/odocoileus
  • _virginianus/odocoileus_virginianus.html

“Odocoileus virginianus (White-Tailed Deer).” Last revised 2009-05-07. Indexes:
Animals. ZipcodeZoo.

  • Available at: http://zipcodezoo.com/Animals/O/Odocoileus_virginianus/

Whitehead, G. Kenneth. The Whitehead Encyclopedia of Deer. Shrewsbury UK: Swan Hill Press, 1993.

Young, R. First analysis of House Bill 4162 State game mammal: white-tailed deer. Lansing MI: House Legislative Analysis Section, May 1, 1997.

  • Available at: http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/1997-1998/billanalysis/House/pdf/1997-HLA-4162-A.pdf


watchful white-tailed freckled fawn

Berwyn, Chester County, southeastern Pennsylvania
Berwyn, Chester County, southeastern Pennsylvania
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

"Autumn Lady" by wildlife artist Carl Brenders: painting inspired by encounter with doe during cold, rainy trip to Canada.

Finished size: 19.25"x26.75" ~ 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle.
Carl Brenders Wildlife Collection Autumn Lady Jigsaw Puzzle, 1000-P...

.925 sterling silver bracelet of antlered deer:

Length: 7.25" (18.4 cm). Lobster-claw clasps.
Sterling Silver 7.25" Deer with Antlers Bracelet

Bambi: world's most famous white-tailed deer, beautifully designed as Swarovksi crystal figurine.

Dimensions: 3 9/16" x 3 13/16" inches.
Swarovski Crystal Figurine #5004688, Bambi

Two Deer on Forest Path: black t-shirt

Two Deer on Forest Path
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Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 06/27/2014, DerdriuMarriner
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


DerdriuMarriner on 03/02/2015

molajen, Thank you for visiting my article, and thank you for sharing your fine photo of antler velvet via Flickr. I like to spotlight talented photographers, like you, who make a difference through photography.

molajen on 02/27/2015

Great article on whitetails! Thanks for choosing one of my photos to illustrate velvet on antlers.

DerdriuMarriner on 01/23/2014

jptanabe, Whitetails are so photogenic that it's difficult to get a bad picture of them!

jptanabe on 01/23/2014

Great information about white-tailed deer. Love the photos!

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