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Twilight in Penn’s Woods?

Posted: October 30, 2015

The woods can be a scary place especially after dark…with vampires lurking about.
Photo credit: J. D. Hassinger

Photo credit: J. D. Hassinger

It’s All Hallows’ Eve, the night of the undead. When ghouls and goblins, witches and warlocks, demons and devils roam freely. And let’s not forget vampires, likely the most numerous and well-known fiend of them all.

The tale of the blood thirsty goes back centuries. To find a vampire, you’ll need a 7-year old boy riding a white horse through a cemetery at midday…at least according to Romanian legend.

If you don’t have access to a 7-year old boy, white horse, or a cemetery at midday, perhaps a day in the woods properly licensed with a gun or a bow will be just as good.

That’s because the vampires I speak of are not human (or once human). These vampires are 4-legged with big brown eyes…and FANGS!

I’m talking about deer.

White-tailed deer do not have upper canine teeth (FANGS!). Well, they aren’t supposed to anyway.

The earliest true deer (Family Cervidae) appeared in Eurasia in the middle of the Miocene (millions of years ago). One of these ancestors had tusk-like canines and antlers that were shed annually. With evolutionary development of increasingly elaborate antlers, the occurrence of over-sized canines (used as weapons or as sexual display organs) began to disappear in the deer family.

Some cervids, like the white-tailed deer, lost their canines entirely while others, like elk, were much reduced. Some cervids did retain their canines. Chinese water deer have no antlers but prominent fangs…I mean canines.

Upper canine teeth are rare in white-tailed deer but not unheard of. In fact, they may be more common than we realize. Many are not long enough to protrude through the gum allowing them to go completely unnoticed unless the skull is cleaned. Some do make it through the gums, but even those may not be noticed unless someone is actually looking in the deer’s mouth.

So in the twilight hour when all the fabled forest creatures come to life, perhaps one of these mythical vampire deer will walk by your tree stand. Don’t take your eyes off it. They have been known to vanish into thin air.

-Jeannine Fleegle, biologist
PGC Deer and Elk Section

P.S. If you think Jeannine is pulling your leg, today I looked for a deer who’s collar was transmitting a mortality signal...but we couldn’t find it. Coincidence?  Do we have documentation of the undead? We’ll let you know next week.  Duane Diefenbach

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