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Ask The Biologist: Whitetail Fawns

Back To "Ask The Biologist?" QUESTION: I recently got an email that contained a picture of a whitetail fawn hiding amongst fallen flower petals on the steps of a home. It got me wondering if all fawn coats are pretty much the same, or do the spot patterns vary? -- Nancy Cole / Flint, Mich.

ANSWER: As the picture you describe demonstrates, the spots on whitetail fawns are designed for camouflage and to help break up the outline of the animal’s body. Just like other animals with outline-distorting patterns — zebras, leopards and tigers, for example — the patterns on whitetail fawns look similar but differ from animal to animal. For whitetail fawns, that difference occurs in the exact number of spots, size and how those spots are dispersed.

While there is no exact pattern just about all whitetail fawns have two rows of spots located on each side of the backbone, extending from the base of the tail to the ears. Spots then occur randomly over the sides and flanks.

I recently read about some researchers who took the time to count the spots on three fawns. The totals ranged from 272 to 342, and the size of the spots varied from 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch.

While patterns on animals like zebras and leopards remain for life, whitetails lose their spots just a few months after birth. Fawns aren’t very mobile, so the mother doe hides the fawn when she has to go feed. The small animal’s only defense is its camouflage, and it will remain perfectly still, even if predators approach.

As the fawn grows and begins to walk around with its mother, the spots would actually draw predator eyes. That’s when nature kicks in, allowing the young deer to grow new hair, devoid of spots.

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