Ask The Biologist



By Bob Humphrey

Cringe-worthy growths likely not nearly as bad as they look.

QUESTION: I recently saw a video of a deer covered with tumors. Do deer get the bubonic plague?

ANSWER: Bubonic plague, sometimes called the black death killed more than 20 million people in Europe (a third of the continent’s population) in roughly five years in the 1300s. Fortunately, the disease is extremely rare today, and I can find no evidence suggesting deer carry or are susceptible to it.

Most likely, the deer you saw was afflicted with something called fibromas, which are essentially excessive growth of epithelial and dermal (skin) cells. They are typically dark brown or black, except in areas where the hair is white, where they are often tan or pink (unpigmented).

They are caused by a viral infection, although biologists aren’t entirely certain how they are transmitted. It could be through direct skin contact with other deer or objects infected deer have come in contact with, or through blood-feeding insects.

Except in extreme cases where the fibromas interfere with sight, eating, breathing, the ability of the deer to walk or other bodily essential functions, fibromas are rarely harmful to the deer. They should heal over time, and no human infection from cutaneous fibromas has been reported.

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Copyright 2020 by Buckmasters, Ltd.

Copyright 2020 by Buckmasters, Ltd