Ask The Biologist

Natural Night Owls

Natural Night Owls

By Bob Humphrey

Whitetails learn some behavior, but it takes millennia to change the nature of a species.

QUESTION:Over the generations, are deer learning it is safer to move at night? –Steve H.

ANSWER: Anything’s possible but that seems highly unlikely. While humans understand the concept of natural selection, we often fail to grasp the time it takes for a certain behavior or characteristic to evolve.

Deer have been around for about 3.5 million years, and throughout that time they have always had to contend with predators. Individual deer that are best equipped with the best eyes, ears and noses to detect danger (as well as the strength and stamina to elude it, and the behavioral traits to avoid it) survive and pass along their genes.

Those that don’t, perish. We simply haven’t been around long enough to influence that, at least at the genetic level.

However, human interaction does influence deer behavior. Studies have shown that as hunting pressure increases, deer move less during daylight, and more in thick cover. This is learned behavior steered by their innate predisposition to avoid danger. Mothers teach their offspring, and they teach theirs.

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Copyright 2022 by Buckmasters, Ltd.

Copyright 2020 by Buckmasters, Ltd