Not all rut interaction by bucks is violent, and it’s likely more significant than you think.
QUESTION: Last fall during the rut, I saw two bucks approach each other in a greenfield. Rather than fighting, they licked each other’s ears and face. Why would they do this? — Kevin M.
ANSWER: The behavior you observed is not all that unusual. In fact, a study by Kenneth Ford and Larry Marchinton on social grooming in whitetails found that during the breeding season, bucks showed a clear tendency to groom (lick) other bucks on the head more than any other body area.
They also noted this behavior coincided with two forms of scent marking by bucks (rubs and scrapes) and suggested that grooming could represent a way for one buck to monitor the marking activity of other deer by matching the scent of individual bucks identified during grooming with scent left at rubs and scrapes.
It’s a great example of just how sophisticated the whitetail’s scent communication system is. — Recent Ask the Biologist Question:
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