White-tailed deer are an integral part of Myakka’s ecosystems.
But by the 1930s, unregulated hunting all but wiped out deer from Sarasota County. In fact, when Myakka River State Park was established in 1941 to protect the Myakka River Valley from development, many species of wildlife, including deer, had been hunted to the near extinction. To restore the deer, Allen Crowley, one of the park’s first managers, brought them from the Everglades and raised them in a 6-acre fenced area in the park. They were then introduced to the newly protected lands, where they now thrive.
Deer are herbivores, whose diet consists of tender leaves and tips of shrubs and vines, as well as many plants, acorns and fungi. As a prey species, popular with predators including humans, Florida panthers, bobcats, and even American alligators, speed is the deer’s primary defense.
When they sense danger, before moving to safety, they hold their tail upright, exposing the white underside, hence their name. This discreetly alerts other deer nearby and may also signal to the predator that it has been spotted. The doe’s white tail flag also helps her fawns follow her through dimly lit forests.
Fawns are able to stand, walk and even run soon after birth. But because their legs are still weak, running away from danger isn’t a viable option. Since they have no scent, predators can only detect their presence if they are seen.
Therefore, they spend most of their time hiding from predators in tall vegetation, aided by their spotted coat, which makes them virtually invisible. Besides quick visits for nursing, a doe will limit contact with her offspring so as not to attract predators.
So this spring, if you find a young fawn curled up in the woods or hiding in tall grass, leave it alone and get away from the area quickly. Its mother is probably nearby and a fawn’s best chance of survival is with her.
And when crossing wooded areas, watch out for deer near the road who may be preparing to cross with precious cubs likely behind you.
Friends of the Myakka River exists to support Myakka River State Park and the Wild and Scenic Myakka River. Together, we protect and share the magic of Myakka for the benefit of future generations and our own. Follow us on @FriendsOfMyakkaRiver.
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