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Ask The Biologist: Can You Identify The Growths?

Back To "Ask The Biologist?"QUESTION: I was hoping you could correctly identify the growths on the doe’s back left inner thigh. I was wondering if she’s still edible, or are the growths infectious or contagious to the others in the herd?
— Ken M.

Ask The Biologist

ANSWER: It is impossible to tell exactly what we’re seeing in your picture without actually seeing the deer close-up and in person. However, the growths on the inside of the deer’s left rear leg, and possibly the outside of the right leg appear to be fibromas.

Fibromas are 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.

The good news is — except in extreme cases where the fibromas interfere with sight, eating, breathing, the ability of the deer to walk or other functions vital to survival — fibromas are rarely harmful to the deer. In many cases they will heal over time.

The even better news is no human infection from cutaneous fibromas has been reported. Fibromas are typically associated just with the skin. If you remove the skin, you remove the fibromas.

In short, assuming what we’re seeing in your photo is indeed cutaneous fibromas, the deer should be edible. Of course, you’re going to have to shoot her first. The virus could be contagious to other deer, but it is not problematic enough to warrant removing her from the herd, except of course when the calendar says it’s okay to start filling the freezer.

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