Some Missouri deer hunters made unexpected discoveries while hunting this fall. Five female deer have been reported by hunters to the Missouri Department of Conservation sporting fully formed antlers. The antlered deer, analyzed by MDC Resource Scientist Emily Flinn, appear to be externally female. Flinn specializes in deer biology and says this phenomenon all comes down to hormones.
“Female deer can grow antlers if they have higher-than-normal testosterone levels,” Flinn said. “In most cases, does’ testosterone levels are too low for full antler development. They usually are small and poorly formed and they aren’t completely hardened. They typically are still in velvet when hunting season arrives.”
Two of the female deer hunters reported, however, had shed the velvet and were shot wearing fully hardened, polished and symmetrical antlers. According to Flinn, these sexually ambiguous deer fall into three categories:
- Category one consists of deer with testosterone levels of unusually high amounts. They are usually still fertile and grow underdeveloped antlers.
- In category two, deer are fully functional males who also possess some female features.
- The third are completely hermaphroditic consisting of both male and female reproductive organs.
The statistics of how many deer have these mixed features is foggy.
“We only know about the ones that hunters shoot and probably not even all of those,” Flinn said. “It seems likely that some are field-dressed without the hunters noticing the anatomical oddities.”
According to the MDC, the deer population in Missouri this fall is estimated to be 1.4 million. If five out of the 186,000 deer hunted during November were sexually ambiguous, the MDC says that means there are probably 40 or more of these sexually ambiguous deer wandering throughout Missouri.