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The roe deer

Capreolus capreolus

Roe deer is the smallest European Cervidae and has the typical structure of a well-adapted jumper animal: hind legs are longer and stronger than the fore ones, so as to allow easy movements through dense woodlands and rich undergrowth habitats. Fawns’ coat is dark-brown with white spots in order to increase their camouflage in the shady lighting typical of their recovering places. After 2 months white spots disappear and coat becomes similar to the adults’ one. During the summer, it is reddish brown, while in winter becomes greyish brown, in much evident contrast to the white rump patch. The shape of the white rump patch is really useful to distinguish the sex of the animals: in males it is kidney-shaped, concave in the lower part; in females it is heart-shaped because of the presence of a hairs tuft in the vulvar area, the so called “false tail”.As in all Cervidae, only males have antlers that are lost and regrow every year. They are made of bony tissue, pretty short, normally with 3 points each, and their development depends firstly on the living condition and the age of the animal. In October-November, at the end of the rutting season, antlers are lost and immediately grow again, covered in a thin layer of velvet-like fur which protects them and allow their own growth. In April-May, when antlers’ growth has ended, the “velvet” layer is not necessary anymore, so it is removed by rubbing of males on small threes and shrubs.
The rutting season lasts from the middle of July until the end of August. After the mating, a really peculiar phenomenon occurs in roe deer, the “delayed implantation”: the newly-formed embryo enters a 5-months-state of quiescence. Only after this phase the real pregnancy starts and goes on for 5 further months, in order to allow the young to be born in spring.
Births occur between May and June, according to different climatic and geographic conditions. Usually 1-2 fawns are born. They spend their first living weeks remaining hidden in long grass, camouflaged by their white-spotted coat. Their mother joins them several times a day to feed them and only after 3 months fawns are able to follow her.
Roe deer’s favourite habitat is characterized by dense woodlands, where it can hide from predators, alternating with open grasslands where it can forage.
Roe deer is a concentrate-selector ruminant: since it has a rather small stomach compared with its body size, it needs to select highly nutritious food, as buds, flower and fruits.

 
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The roe deer

Roe deer’s footprint, consisting of the two main foot fingers, is easily recognisable for its shape and size. It is longer and more pointed than the red deer’s one, it is nearly 4,5 cm long and 3 cm wide. When the animal is running or moving on soft soil, prints of the external and smallest foot fingers can be usually impressed on the ground too.
Pellets are left in more or less large groups; they are dark-coloured, 1-1,4 cm long, and measure about 0,7-1 cm in diameter. They have a cylinder shape, and often show on one side a pointed and on the other side a rounded end.
Roe deer defends its territory marking the borders with typical signs of presence: it scraps the ground with the forelegs, producing small holes on it; and it rubs the head against shrubs and small trees. Like in the red deer, the rub on the trees let them clean the antlers from the velvet layer. Roe deer uses smaller trees and at lesser height than the red deer.

The fawns of roe deers remain hidden from predators in sheltered and safe sites. They are not abandoned! When it happens to find them in nature, it’s important to leave them where they are and avoid touching them. Their mother comes to suckle them several times a day.
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