Deer are widely known as grazing herbivores. As ruminants, they even have a specialty designed digestive system to process plants and get the absolute best nutrition out of them. This gut system shares the famous feature that cows’ guts do by having four different stomach parts!
So if they have evolved to make the most of eating plants, why are we hearing all about deer found eating meat?
Deer have recently been recorded eating rabbits!
There’s no proof of deer at all hunting any animal, including rabbits, but rather assumed to make the most of the opportunity of finding a dead rabbit and having a munch on them.
Let’s explore why deer, who are considered herbivores, would go on to eat rabbits. We also delve into the other types of animals they are known to eat, what benefit they may hold to them and how this compares to their biological adaptions.
Why Do Deer Eat Rabbits?
While deer have been seen and recorded eating rabbits, there is still speculation on why they chose to ingest something they don’t naturally eat.
It’s contested whether deer are actually trying to consume the rabbit’s meat for the nutritional benefits or they are attracted to the digested contents of the rabbit’s guts, which would include other plant matter.
This behavior of bending their diets to eat rabbit meat seems to be an opportunistic development. All animals aim to survive and thrive, so many species would be considered “opportunistic”.
This basically means that when an opportunity is presented, the deer take it to increase their chance of survival. This may just be why they have taken to eating rabbits who would be abundant in the same habitat that the deer live in.
Are Deers Predators?
Deer are by no means predators.
A predator is an animal that hunts, stalks, and attacks other animals with the intent to kill and consume.
Deer are not built for this kind of behavior. They do not have the level of senses, the body shape, or the instinct to kill. Deer are aligned as a prey species, usually being the one being eaten, not doing the eating of other animals.
The only recorded instances of deer killing animals to eat them lay with extremely vulnerable animals such as baby rabbits or bird hatchlings fallen from the nest.
There’s no proof that deer hunt down rabbits with intent to kill, and it is unlikely that would ever happen!
What Else Do Deer Eat?
Rabbits are not the only other animal that deer have been known to eat. Other small forest animals have been consumed by deer, including birds and squirrels.
But with that opportunistic streak, it seems a desperately hungry deer will likely attempt to consume any edible thing they come across. Some trail cams have picked up deer showing cannibalistic behavior, eating the remains of other deer.
In 2017, some students at the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility made a grizzly discovery on one of their trail cams when a deer was filmed feasting on human remains that were being used for decomposition study.
But of course, all the things above are only rarely eaten and are by no means a permanent part of a deers diet. A deer would naturally eat things such as:
What Are The Benefits Of Meat For Deer?
So if they are built to eat plants, why would deer want to eat meat?
The plant matter that deer consume would be largely seasonal, meaning at certain times of the year, food would be scarce. Eating meat can help maintain conditions over the harsh winter months where food may be hard to find.
The boost of the vitamins and nutrients in meat may also help deer build condition and mass when approaching breeding season, giving them a head start for all that courtship, mating, and offspring rearing requires of them.
Perhaps the reason that deer eating meat is becoming more prevalent than it once was is due to the building pressure on the environment and increasing competition for food in declining habitats.
Biological Adaptions Of Deer For Feeding
Although they are notably taken to opportunistic feeding on meat, deer have not evolved this way. Their physical and biological design has evolved with the intent of consuming plants while getting the best nutritional value of them.
Some of these awesome adaptations include:
- Ruminant digestive system – the four-chambered stomach is efficient at processing plants to squeeze every ounce of nutrition out of them.
- Teeth – deer possess classic herbivore teeth with large grinding molars for breaking down plant matter. They certainly do not have any incisors for ripping and tearing at the meat like carnivores.
- Salvia – deer have highly active salivary glands that produce enzymes designed to deactivate plant proteins for optimal digestion. They would likely have little effect on meat digestion.
- Tounge – the long tongue of deer is equipped to strip goodness from local flora that would otherwise be unavailable to them.
And that is just to name a very few of deers’ specialized adaptations! It begs the question, how would these particular traits bear to deal with an increase of uptake of meat to the system.
While struggling deer may find some nutritional value in a small amount of carrion located on the forest floor, large quantities would cause issues in the herbivore stomach.
So the rumors were true, sweet little deer have been getting a bad rep for munching on other little woodlands creatures!
But now we know they only do as they need to survive. Just like all creatures of the world, a deer’s main focus is staying alive to thrive and reproduce.
Deer are perfectly adapted to their herbivore lifestyle and could not sustain themselves as carnivores or even omnivores. Let’s all take note to keep deer habitat safe and conserved as well as deer populations under control, so starving deer need not turn to rabbits for dinner!