Leon M. Lederman Science Education Center
Fermilab Flora and Fauna Virtual Exhibit

White-tailed Deer

Prairie Resources - Exhibit Home

Seeing the Unseen

Although the whitetailed deer herd at Fermilab numbers about 150, many visitors never see one. This is partly due to the fact that whitetailed deer feed and are most active in the early morning and late evening hours. Deer also have an outstanding sense of smell, excellent hearing and good eyesight. These senses coupled with their ability to move quickly and blend in with their surroundings allow deer to stay hidden from the view of any thing they may consider a potential threat. Just as the scientists at Fermilab use indirect evidence to "see" subatomic particles, you can study deer by looking for and observing their signs.


The antlers on display were found here at Fermilab in 1995. The smaller of the two weighs about 600 grams or 1.2 pounds. Antlers provide some indication of the health of the deer, but are not a good indicator of age. With few exceptions, only male deer or bucks grow antlers. Antlers begin to grow on a buck about 4 6 weeks after dropping last year's rack. Antler growth continues as the daylight hours increase and peaks about August or September. In late winter, the antler base dissolves and the antlers fall or are broken off.


Scat or droppings from deer are found all over the Fermilab site, usually in clusters 10 15 centimeters in diameter. You can learn a great deal about deer from studying its scat. The droppings in the display, for example, which were collected just outside this building must have been collected during winter. The relatively dry food available to deer in the winter produces pellet shaped droppings, while the succulent food of the summer produces softer, more amorphous shaped droppings.


Deer use the same paths over and over again. Deer runs are common here at Fermilab and show up as narrow (about 30 45 centimeters) paths of matted down vegetation. Where deer walk in mud, tracks from their hooves can indicate the age of the deer, its weight and how fast it was moving. Fermilab physicists make similar measurements of quarks by studying "tracks" left by these particles as they travel through special detectors.