American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)
An alligator is a crocodilian in the genus Alligator of the family Alligatoridae. There are two extant alligator species: the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) and the Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis).
The name alligator is an anglicized form of el lagarto, the Spanish term for "lizard", which early Spanish explorers and settlers in Florida called the alligator.
Alligators have a variety of successful adaptations to their ecological niche that have allowed these reptiles to remain almost unchanged for 200 million years.
The alligator is notorious for its bone crushing bites. In addition, the alligator has been described as a "living fossil", having been extant for 200 million years, beginning in the Mesozoic Era.
An exceptionally large adult American alligator's weight and length is 800 pounds (360 kg) and 13 feet (4.0 m) long, but can grow to 14.5 feet (4.4 m) long and weigh over 1,000 pounds (450 kg). According to the Everglades National Park website, the largest alligator ever recorded in Florida was 17 feet 5 inches (5.31 m), although according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission web site the Florida state record for length is a 14 feet 5/8 inches (4.28 m) male from Lake Monroe in Seminole County. The largest specimen ever recorded was found in Louisiana and measured 19 feet 2 inches (5.84 m). The Chinese alligator is smaller, rarely exceeding 7 feet (2.1 m) in length. Alligators have an average of 75 teeth.
The average lifespan for an alligator is 50 years. A specimen named Muja has resided in the Belgrade Zoo in Serbia since 1937, making it at least 73 years old. Another specimen, Čabulītis, in Riga Zoo, Latvia died in 2007 being more than 75 years old.
Alligators are only native to the United States and China.
American alligators are found in the southeast United States: all of Florida and Louisiana, the southern parts of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, coastal South and North Carolina, Eastern Texas, the southeast corner of Oklahoma and the southern tip of Arkansas. According to the 2005 Scholastic Book of World Records, Louisiana is the state with the largest alligator population. The majority of American alligators inhabit Florida and Louisiana, with over a million alligators in each state.
American alligators live in freshwater environments, such as ponds, marshes, wetlands, rivers, lakes, and swamps, as well as brackish environments. Southern Florida is the only place where both alligators and crocodiles live side by side.
The Chinese alligator currently is found only in the Yangtze River valley and is extremely endangered, with only a few dozen believed to be left in the wild. Indeed, far more Chinese alligators live in zoos around the world than can be found in the wild. Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge in southern Louisiana has several in captivity in an attempt to preserve the species. Miami MetroZoo in Florida also has a breeding pair of Chinese alligators. The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park has successfully reproduced Chinese Alligators and been fortunate enough to release some of their offspring back into the wild in China.
The Alligator exhibit is currently located in the South American realm at the Montgomery Zoo. A new Alligator and Crocodile exhibit is being constructed in the Spring of 2011 in the North American realm near the North American River Otters.
The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is a bird of prey found in North America. It is the national bird and symbol of the United States of America. This sea eagle has two known sub-species and forms a species pair with the White-tailed Eagle. Its range includes most of Canada and Alaska, all of the contiguous United States, and northern Mexico. It is found near large bodies of open water with an abundant food supply and old-growth trees for nesting.
In the late 20th century the Bald Eagle was on the brink of extirpation in the continental United States, while flourishing in much of Alaska and Canada. Populations recovered and stabilized, so the species was removed from the U.S. federal government's list of endangered species and transferred to the list of threatened species on July 12, 1995, and it was removed from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in the Lower 48 States on June 28, 2007.
Bald eagles are not actually bald, the name deriving from the older meaning of the word, "white headed".
The plumage of an adult Bald Eagle is evenly brown with a white head and tail. The tail is moderately long and slightly wedge-shaped. Males and females are identical in plumage coloration, but sexual dimorphism is evident in the species in that females are 25 percent larger than males. The beak, feet, and irises are bright yellow. The legs are feather-free, and the toes are short and powerful with large talons. The highly developed talon of the hind toe is used to pierce the vital areas of prey while it is held immobile by the front toes. The beak is large and hooked, with a yellow cere.
The plumage of the immature is brown, speckled with white until the fifth (rarely fourth, very rarely third) year, when it reaches sexual maturity. Immature Bald Eagles are distinguishable from the Golden Eagle in that the former has a more protruding head with a larger beak, straighter edged wings which are held flat (not slightly raised) and with a stiffer wing beat, and feathers which do not completely cover the legs. The Bald Eagle is a large bird, with a body length of 70–102 centimeters (28–40 in), a wingspan of between 1.68 m (66 in) and 2.44 m (96 in), and a mass of 2.5–7 kilograms (5.5–15 lb); females are about 25 percent larger than males, adult females averaging 5.8 kilograms (13 lb) and males averaging 4.1 kilograms (9.0 lb). The size of the bird varies by location; the smallest specimens are those from Florida, where an adult male may barely exceed 2.3 kilograms (5.1 lb) and a wingspan of 1.8 m (5.9 ft). The largest are Alaskan birds, where large females may exceed 7.5 kilograms (17 lb) and have a wingspan of over 2.4 m (7.9 ft).
Its diet consists mainly of fish, but it is an opportunistic feeder. It hunts fish by swooping down and snatching the fish out of the water with its talons. It is sexually mature at four years or five years of age. In the wild, Bald Eagles can live up to thirty years, and often survive longer in captivity. The Bald Eagle builds the largest nest of any North American bird, up to 4 meters (13 ft) deep, 2.5 meters (8.2 ft) wide, and one metric ton (1.1 tons) in weight.
The call consists of weak chirping whistles, harsher and more shrill from young birds than adults.
The average lifespan of Bald Eagles in the wild is around 20 years, with the oldest living to be about 30. In captivity, they often live somewhat longer. In one instance, a captive individual in New York lived for nearly 50 years. As with size, the average lifespan of an eagle population appears to be influenced by its location.
The American Bald Eagle can be seen on display at the Montgomery Zoo’s North American realm near the River Otters.
The American Bison (Bison bison) is a North American species of bison, also commonly known as the American Buffalo. Some consider the term "buffalo" somewhat of a misnomer for this animal, as it is only distantly related to either of the two "true buffalo," the Asian water buffalo and the African buffalo. However, "bison" is a Greek word meaning ox-like animal, while "buffalo" originated with the French fur trappers who called these massive beasts boeufs, meaning ox or bullock – so both names, "bison" and "buffalo," have a similar meaning. In reference to this animal, the term "buffalo," which dates to 1635, has a much longer history than the term "bison," which was first recorded in 1774. The American bison is more closely related to the wisent or European bison.
These bison once roamed the grasslands of North America in massive herds; their range roughly formed a triangle between the Great Bear Lake in Canada's far northwest, south to the Mexican states of Durango and Nuevo León, and east along the western boundary of the Appalachian Mountains. Two subspecies or ecotypes have been described: the plains bison (Bison bison bison), smaller in size and with a more rounded hump, and the wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) – the larger of the two and having a taller, square hump. Furthermore, it has been suggested that the plains bison consists of a northern (Bison bison montanae) and a southern subspecies, bringing the total to three. However, this is generally not supported. The wood bison is one of the largest species of bovid in the world, surpassed by only the Asian gaur and wild Asian water buffalo. It is the largest extant land animal in North America.
A bison has a shaggy, long, dark brown winter coat, and a lighter weight, lighter brown summer coat. As typical in ungulates, the male bison are slightly larger than the female. Bison bulls can reach up to 6 feet 6 inches (2 m) tall, 11 feet 6 inches (4 m) long, and weigh up to 2,200 pounds (1,000 kg). The biggest specimens on record have weighed as much as 2,500 pounds (1,130 kg). The heads and forequarters are massive, and both sexes have short, curved horns that can grow up to 2 feet (61 cm) long, which they use in fighting for status within the herd and for defense.
Bison are herbivores, grazing on the grasses and sedges of the North American prairies. Their daily schedule involves 2 hour periods of grazing, resting and cud chewing, then moving to a new location to graze again. Bison mate in August and September; gestation is 285 days. A single reddish-brown calf nurses until the next calf is born. If the cow is not pregnant, a calf will nurse for 18 months. Bison cows are mature enough to produce a calf at 3 years of age. Bison bulls may try to mate with cows at 3 years of age, but if more mature bulls are present, they may not be able to compete until they reach 5 years of age. Bison have a life expectancy of approximately 15 years in the wild and up to 25 years in captivity.
For the first two months of life, calves are lighter in color than mature bison. One very rare condition is the white buffalo, in which the calf turns entirely white. White bison are considered sacred by many Native Americans.
The American Bison can be seen at the Montgomery Zoo in the North American realm.
The American Black Bear (Ursus americanus) is North America's smallest and most common species of bear. Black bears are omnivores, with their diets varying greatly depending on the season. Black bears typically live in largely forested areas, but do leave forests in search of food. Sometimes they become attracted to human communities because of the immediate availability of food. The American black bear is listed by the IUCN as Least Concern, due to the species' widespread distribution and a large global population estimated to be twice that of all other bear species combined.
Build - The skulls of American black bears are broad, with narrow muzzles and large jaw hinges. Females tend to have more slender and pointed faces than males. Their claws are typically black or grayish brown. The claws are short and rounded, being thick at the base and tapering to a point. Claws from both hind and front legs are almost identical in length, though the foreclaws tend to be more sharply curved. The hind legs are longer than those of Asiatic black bears. The tail is usually 4.8 inches (12 cm) long. The ears are small and rounded, and are set well back on the head. The soles of the feet are black or brownish, and are naked, leathery and deeply wrinkled. Black bears are highly dexterous, being capable of opening screw-top jars and manipulating door latches. They also have great physical strength, having been known to turn over flat-shaped rocks weighing 310 to 325 pounds (140 to 147 kg) by flipping them over with a single foreleg. They move in a graceful, rhythmic and surefooted way and can run at speeds of 25–30 mph (40–50 km/h). Black bears have good eyesight, and have been proven experimentally to be able to learn visual discrimination tasks based on color faster than chimpanzees and as fast as dogs. They are also capable of rapidly learning to distinguish different shapes, such as small triangles, circles and squares.
Size - Black bear weight tends to vary according to age, sex, health and season. Seasonal variation in weight is very pronounced: in autumn, their pre-den weight tends to be 30% higher than in spring, when black bears emerge from their dens. Black bears on the East Coast tend to be heavier on average than those on the West Coast. Adult males typically weigh between 125 and 550 lb, while females weigh 33% less at 90–275 lb. The largest subspecies on average is U. americanus carlottae of the Queen Charlotte Islands and Alaska. The biggest wild American Black Bear ever recorded was a male from North Carolina, shot in 1998, that weighed 400 kg (880 lb). Adults are 4–6 ft in length, and 2.5–3 ft in shoulder height. The North American Bear Center, located in Ely, Minnesota, is home to the world's largest captive male and female black bears. Ted, the male, weighed 950–1,000 lb (430–450 kg) in the fall of 2006. Honey, the female, weighed 555.5 lb (252.0 kg) in the fall of 2007.
Pelage - The fur is soft, with dense underfur and long, coarse, thick guard hairs. The fur is not as shaggy or coarse as that of brown bears. American black bear skins can be distinguished from those of Asiatic black bears by the lack of a white mark on the chin and hairier footpads. Despite their name, black bears show a great deal of color variation. Individual coat colors can range from blond, cinnamon, or light brown to dark chocolate brown or to jet black, with many intermediate variations existing. Bluish tinged black bears occur along a portion of coastal Alaska and British Columbia. White to cream colored black bears occur in coastal islands and the adjacent mainland of south-western British Columbia. Albino specimens have also been recorded. Black coats tend to predominate in moist areas such as New England, New York, Tennessee, Michigan and western Washington. 70% of all black bears are black, though only 50% of black bears in the Rocky Mountains are black.
The Black Bears at the Montgomery Zoo can be seen on display in the North American realm.
The cougar (Puma concolor), also known as puma, mountain lion, mountain cat, catamount or panther, depending on the region, is a mammal of the family Felidae, native to the Americas. This large, solitary cat has the greatest range of any large wild terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere extending from Yukon in Canada to the southern Andes of South America. An adaptable, generalist species, the cougar is found in every major American habitat type. It is the second heaviest cat in the American continents after the jaguar. Although large, the cougar is most closely related to smaller felines.
A capable stalk-and-ambush predator, the cougar pursues a wide variety of prey. Primary food sources include ungulates such as deer, elk, moose, and bighorn sheep, as well as domestic cattle, horses and sheep, particularly in the northern part of its range. It will also hunt species as small as insects and rodents. This cat prefers habitats with dense underbrush and rocky areas for stalking, but it can also live in open areas. The cougar is territorial and persists at low population densities. Individual territory sizes depend on terrain, vegetation, and abundance of prey. While it is a large predator, it is not always the dominant species in its range, as when it competes for prey with other predators such as the jaguar, grey wolf, American Black Bear, and the grizzly bear. It is a reclusive cat and usually avoids people. Attacks on humans remain rare, despite a recent increase in frequency.
Due to excessive hunting following the European colonization of the Americas and the continuing human development of cougar habitat, populations have dropped in most parts of its historical range. In particular, the cougar was extirpated in eastern North America, except for an isolated sub-population in Florida; there are many sightings that claim the animal is recolonizing parts of its former eastern territory, such as Maine, the Upper Peninsula and northern Michigan, and southern Indiana.
Cougars are slender and agile cats. Adults stand about 60 to 76 centimeters (2.0 to 2.5 ft) tall at the shoulders. The length of adult males is around 2.4 meters (8 ft) long nose to tail, with overall ranges between 1.5 and 2.75 m (5 and 9 ft) nose to tail suggested for the species in general. Males typically weigh 53 to 100 kilograms (115 to 220 pounds), averaging 62 kg (137 lb). Females typically weigh between 29 and 64 kg (64 and 141 lb), averaging 42 kg (93 lb). Cougar size is smallest close to the equator, and larger towards the poles.
The head of the cat is round and the ears erect. Its powerful forequarters, neck, and jaw serve to grasp and hold large prey. It has five retractable claws on its forepaws (one a dewclaw) and four on its hind paws. The larger front feet and claws are adaptations to clutching prey.
Cougars can be almost as large as jaguars, but are less muscular and not as powerful; where their ranges overlap, the cougar tends to be smaller than average. The cougar is on average as heavy as the leopard. Despite its size, it is not typically classified among the "big cats", as it cannot roar, lacking the specialized larynx and hyoid apparatus of Panthera. Like domestic cats, cougars vocalize low-pitched hisses, growls, and purrs, as well as chirps and whistles. They are well known for their screams, as referenced in some of their common names, although these screams are often misinterpreted to be the calls of other animals.
Cougar coloring is plain (hence the Latin concolor) but can vary greatly between individuals and even between siblings. The coat is typically tawny, but ranges to silvery-grey or reddish, with lighter patches on the under body including the jaws, chin, and throat. Infants are spotted and born with blue eyes and rings on their tails; juveniles are pale, and dark spots remain on their flanks. Despite anecdotes to the contrary, all-black coloring (melanism) has never been documented in cougars. The term "black panther" is used colloquially to refer to melanistic individuals of other species, particularly jaguars and leopards.
Cougars have large paws and proportionally the largest hind legs in the cat family. This physique allows it great leaping and short-sprint ability. An exceptional vertical leap of 5.4 m (18 ft) is reported for the cougar. Horizontal jumping capability from standing position is suggested anywhere from 6 to 12 m (20 to 40 ft). The cougar can run as fast as 55 to 72 km/h (35 mi/h), but is best adapted for short, powerful sprints rather than long chases. It is adept at climbing, which allows it to evade canine competitors. Although it is not strongly associated with water, it can swim.
A successful generalist predator, the cougar will eat any animal it can catch, from insects to large ungulates (over 500 kg). Like all cats, it is an obligate carnivore, feeding only on meat. Its most important prey species are various deer species, particularly in North America; mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, and even large moose are taken by the cat. Other species such as Bighorn Sheep, wild horses of Arizona, domestic horses, and domestic livestock such as cattle and sheep are also primary food bases in many areas. A survey of North America research found 68% of prey items were ungulates, especially deer. Only the Florida Panther showed variation, often preferring feral hogs and armadillos.
Investigation in Yellowstone National Park showed that elk, followed by mule deer, were the cougar's primary targets; the prey base is shared with the park's gray wolves, with whom the cougar competes for resources. Another study on winter kills (November–April) in Alberta showed that ungulates accounted for greater than 99% of the cougar diet. Learned, individual prey recognition was observed, as some cougars rarely killed bighorn sheep, while others relied heavily on the species.
In the Central and South American cougar range, the ratio of deer in the diet declines. Small to mid-size mammals are preferred, including large rodents such as the capybara. Ungulates accounted for only 35% of prey items in one survey, approximately half that of North America. Competition with the larger jaguar has been suggested for the decline in the size of prey items. Other listed prey species of the cougar include mice, porcupine, and hares. Birds and small reptiles are sometimes preyed upon in the south, but this is rarely recorded in North America. Not all of their prey is listed here due to their large range.
Though capable of sprinting, the cougar is typically an ambush predator. It stalks through brush and trees, across ledges, or other covered spots, before delivering a powerful leap onto the back of its prey and a suffocating neck bite. The cougar is capable of breaking the neck of some of its smaller prey with a strong bite and momentum bearing the animal to the ground.
Kills are generally estimated at around one large ungulate every two weeks. The period shrinks for females raising young, and may be as short as one kill every three days when cubs are nearly mature at around 15 months. The cat drags a kill to a preferred spot, covers it with brush, and returns to feed over a period of days. It is generally reported that the cougar is a non-scavenger and will rarely consume prey it has not killed; but deer carcasses left exposed for study were scavenged by cougars in California, suggesting more opportunistic behavior.
Cougars may be viewed at the North American realm at the Montgomery Zoo and at the Mann Wildlife Learning Museum.
The Elk, or Wapiti (Cervus canadensis), is one of the largest species of deer in the world and one of the largest land mammals in North America and eastern Asia. In the deer family (Cervidae), only the larger moose, (Alces alces) (which is called an "elk" in Europe), and Sambar (Rusa unicolor) can rival the elk in size. Elk are similar to Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) found in Europe, of which they were long believed to be a subspecies; however, evidence from a 2004 study of the mitochondrial DNA strongly indicates they are a distinct species.
Elk range in forest and forest-edge habitat, feeding on grasses, plants, leaves, and bark. Although native to North America and Eastern Asia, they have adapted well to countries where they have been introduced, including Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand. Their great adaptability may threaten endemic species and ecosystems into which they have been introduced.
Male elk have large antlers which are shed each year. Males also engage in ritualized mating behaviors during the rut, including posturing, antler wrestling (sparring), and bugling, a loud series of vocalizations which establishes dominance over other males and attracts females.
Elk are susceptible to a number of infectious diseases, some of which can be transmitted to livestock. Efforts to eliminate infectious diseases from elk populations, largely through vaccination, have had mixed success.
Some cultures revere the elk as a spiritual force. In parts of Asia, antlers and their velvet are used in traditional medicines. Elk are hunted as a game species; the meat is leaner and higher in protein than beef or chicken.
Female elk have a short estrus cycle of only a day or two, and matings usually involve a dozen or more attempts. By the autumn of their second year, females can produce one and, very rarely, two offspring, although reproduction is most common when cows weigh at least 200 kilograms (440 lb). The gestation period is 240 to 262 days and the offspring weigh between 15 and 16 kilograms (33 and 35 lb). When the females are near to giving birth, they tend to isolate themselves from the main herd, and will remain isolated until the calf is large enough to escape predators. Calves are born spotted, as is common with many deer species, and they lose their spots by the end of summer. Manchurian wapiti may retain a few orange spots on the back of their summer coats until they are older. After two weeks, calves are able to join the herd, and are fully weaned at two months of age. Elk calves are as large as an adult white-tailed deer by the time they are six months old. The offspring will remain with their mothers for almost a year, leaving about the time that the next season's offspring are produced. The gestation period is the same for all subspecies.
Elk live 20 years or more in captivity but average 10 to 13 years in the wild. In some subspecies that suffer less predation, they may live an average of 15 years in the wild.
As is true for many species of deer, especially those in mountainous regions, elk migrate into areas of higher altitude in the spring, following the retreating snows, and the opposite direction in the fall. Hunting pressure also impacts migration and movements. During the winter, they favor wooded areas and sheltered valleys for protection from the wind and availability of tree bark to eat. Roosevelt elk are generally non-migratory due to less seasonal variability of food sources.
The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem elk herd numbers over 200,000 individuals and during the spring and fall, they take part in the longest elk migration in the continental U.S. Elk in the southern regions of Yellowstone National Park and in the surrounding National Forests migrate south towards the town of Jackson, Wyoming where they winter for up to six months on the National Elk Refuge. Conservationists there ensure the herd is well fed during the harsh winters. Many of the elk that reside in the northern sections of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem migrate to lower altitudes in Montana, mainly to the north and west.
Elk may be seen in the North American realm at the Montgomery Zoo and in the Mann Wildlife Learning Museum.
The North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis), also known as the Northern River Otter or the Common Otter, is a semi-aquatic mammal endemic to the North American continent, found in and along its waterways and coasts. An adult river otter can weigh between 5 and 14 kg (11 and 30 lb). The river otter is protected and insulated by a thick, water-repellent coat of fur.
The river otter, a member of the weasel family, is equally versatile in the water and on land. The otter establishes a burrow close to the water's edge in river, lake, swamp, coastal shoreline, tidal flat, or estuary ecosystems. Their dens have many tunnel openings—one of which generally allows the otter to enter and exit the body of water. Female otters give birth in these underground burrows, producing litters of one to six young.
North American river otters, like most predators, prey upon the species that are the most readily accessible. Fish is a favored food among the otters, but they also consume various amphibians, turtles, and crayfish. There have been instances of river otters eating small mammals as well.
The range of the North American river otter has been significantly reduced by habitat loss, beginning with the European colonization of North America. However, in some regions their population is controlled to allow the trapping and harvesting of otters for their pelts. River otters are very susceptible to environmental pollution, which is a likely factor in the continued decline of their numbers. A number of reintroduction projects have been initiated to help stabilize the reduction in the overall river otter population.
The North American river otter is a stocky animal of 5 to 14 kg (11–30 lb) with short legs, a muscular neck no smaller than the head, and an elongated body that is broadest at the hips. Its body length ranges from 0.66 m (26 in) to 1.07 m (42 in). About one-third of the animal's length consists of a long, tapered tail. Tail length ranges from 30 to 50 cm (11.75 to 19.75 in). It differs from the European otter by its longer neck, narrower visage, the smaller space between the ears and its shorter tail.
A broad muzzle is found on the river otter's flat head, and the ears are round and inconspicuous. The rhinarium is bare with an obtuse triangular projection. Eyes of the animal are small and placed anteriorly. A short, broad rostrum for exhaling and a long, broad cranium define the relatively flat skull. The river otter's nostrils and ears close during submersion, inhibiting water from entering these regions. Its vibrissae, or whiskers, are long and thick, enhancing sensory perception underwater and on land.
The fur of the species is short (guard hairs average 23.8 mm) and very dense, with a density of approximately 57,833 hairs/cm2 in the midback section. The pelage has a high luster and varies from light brown to black. The throat, chin, and lips are grayer than the rest of the body. Fur of senescent river otters may become white-tipped, and rare albinos may occur.
Sexual dimorphism exists among the river otters. Males are, on average, 5% larger than females. In Idaho, juvenile, yearling, and adult males averaged 8, 11, and 17% heavier, respectively, than females of the same age. A clinical reduction in size may exist from north to south along the Pacific coast, but not from east to west.
North American river otters usually live to 21 years of age in captivity, but they can reach 25 years of age. However, they normally live about 8 to 9 years in the wild, but are capable of living up to 13 years of age.
The North American River Otter may be seen on display at the North American realm at the Montgomery Zoo. It can also be seen at the Mann Wildlife Learning Museum.
The White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus), also known as the Virginia Deer or simply as the whitetail, is a medium-sized deer native to the United States (all but five of the states), Canada, Mexico, Central America, and in South America as far south as Peru. It has also been introduced to New Zealand and some countries in Europe, such as Finland and the Czech Republic.
The species is most common east of the Rocky Mountains, and is absent from much of the western United States, including Nevada, Utah, California, Hawaii, and Alaska (though its close relatives, the mule deer and black-tailed deer Odocoileus hemionus, can be found there). It does, however, survive in aspen parklands and deciduous river bottomlands within the central and northern Great Plains, and in mixed deciduous riparian corridors, river valley bottomlands, and lower foothills of the northern Rocky Mountain regions from South Dakota and Wyoming to southeastern British Columbia, including the Montana Valley and Foothill grasslands.
The conversion of land adjacent to the northern Rockies into agriculture use and partial clear-cutting of coniferous trees (resulting in widespread deciduous vegetation) has been favorable to the white-tailed deer and has pushed its distribution to as far north as Prince George, British Columbia. Populations of deer around the Great Lakes have also expanded their range northwards, due to conversion of land to agricultural uses favoring more deciduous vegetation, and local caribou and moose populations. The westernmost population of the species, known as the Columbian white-tailed deer, once was widespread in the mixed forests along the Willamette and Cowlitz River valleys of western Oregon and southwestern Washington, but today its numbers have been considerably reduced, and it is classified as near-threatened. The white-tailed deer is well-suited for its environment. Fossil records indicate that its basic structure has not changed in four million years.
The deer's coat is a reddish-brown in the spring and summer and turns to a grey-brown throughout the fall and winter. The deer can be recognized by the characteristic white underside to its tail, which it shows as a signal of alarm by raising the tail during escape. There is a population of white-tailed deer in the state of New York that is entirely white (except for areas like their noses and toes)—not albino—in color. The former Seneca Army Depot in Romulus, New York, has the largest known concentration of white deer. Strong conservation efforts have allowed white deer to thrive within the confines of the depot.
The North American male deer (also known as a buck) usually weighs from 130 to 300 pounds (60 to 130 kg) but, in rare cases, bucks in excess of 375 pounds (159 kg) have been recorded. In 1926, Carl J. Lenander, Jr. took a Whitetailed buck near Tofte, MN that was estimated at 511 pounds live weight. The female (doe) usually weighs from 90 to 200 pounds (40 to 90 kg). Length ranges from 62 to 87 inches (160 to 220 cm), including the tail, and the shoulder height is 32 to 40 inches (80 to 100 cm). White-tailed deer from the tropics tend to be smaller than in temperate populations, averaging 77–110 pounds (35–50 kg).
Males re-grow their antlers every year. About 1 in 10,000 females also have antlers, although this is usually associated with hermaphroditism. Bucks without branching antlers are often termed "spiked bucks". The spikes can be quite long or very short. Research in Texas has shown that the length and branching of antlers is genetic and can be influenced by diet. Healthy deer in some areas that are well fed can have eight-point branching antlers as yearlings (one and a half years old). The number of points, the length or thickness of the antlers are a general indication of age but cannot be relied upon for positive aging. A better indication of age is the length of the snout and the color of the coat, with older deer tending to have longer snouts and grayer coats. Some say that deer that have spiked antlers should be culled from the population to produce larger branching antler genetics (antler size does not indicate overall health), and some bucks' antlers never will be wall trophies. Where antler growth nutritional needs are met (good mineral sources, i.e., calcium) and good genetics combine it can produce wall trophies in some of their range. Spiked bucks are different from "button bucks" or "nubbin' bucks", that are male fawns and are generally about six to nine months of age during their first winter. They have skin covered nobs on their heads. They can have bony protrusions up to a half inch in length, but that is very rare, and they are not the same as spikes.
Antlers begin to grow in late spring, covered with a highly vascularised tissue known as velvet. Bucks either have a typical or non-typical antler arrangement. Typical antlers are symmetrical and the points grow straight up off the main beam. Non-typical antlers are asymmetrical and the points may project at any angle from the main beam. Bucks shed their antlers when all females have been bred, from late December to February.
The white-tailed deer can be seen in the North American realm at the Montgomery Zoo and at the Mann Wildlife Learning Museum.