Animals of Ashland Episode #1
A puzzle for you: What creature has bony, hard cylinders instead of feet, a four chambered stomach, and gives birth to identical twins every year ?
Don’t know yet? Here’s another clue: Which Ashland creature, like a magical Pokémon, annually sprouts tentacle-esque organs out of its head? These growths begin sensitive, velvety, full of blood vessels, and nerve endings, but eventually turn as hard as rock, are used as weapons, and then fall off, only to regenerate larger the very next year?
Any guesses yet? Here’s another hint: In November and December this creature performs ritualized posturing movements–a complex dance–to win the right to breed. After the twins are born in the spring or summer, they drink a high-protein liquid that one of the parents excretes from tiny hoses located on its underside.
Still don’t know? This will surely let you in on the secret: The muscles in the leg of this creature are super strong; it literally can spring from a standstill to a height of over 7 feet and run as fast as 35 miles per hour. Also, these animals have super sight. Their horizontal pupils, side-mounted eyes, and high eye placement on their skull gives them an incredible 300-degree panoramic view of their surroundings (human field of vision is less than 180 degrees) even when they are bent down eating the dogwood tree you just planted.
You guessed it! The wonderful creature I am describing is the Odocoileus hemionus, the magnificent black-tailed deer! Odocoileus hemionus is a normal part of Ashland life with varying degrees of favor. I’m betting you’ve shooed them out of your path or been chased past the cemetery by one of them. Some of you may remember the deer that crashed through the window of Nimbus on Main Street? His name was Jules –Just kidding, he was too shaken up to tell anyone his real name.
But what do we really know about them? Sometimes seeing something every day creates a blasé attitude about its more awesome characteristics. The deer that live here, and all deer for that matter, are ungulates, hoofed mammals. They are also ruminants, meaning they have a single stomach with several parts for digesting rough plant material. The city of Ashland published a nice pamphlet about living with deer that included the not true fact that deer have no reverse gear and can’t back up. Watch this video if you don’t believe me: https://bit.ly/3lCRQgC
But I would not push a deer into a corner, or any wild animal for that matter, because they will move forward and attack you! The colony of deer that live here does not migrate like most deer do. We think this is because the food in town is too good and us humans provide safe haven from mountain lions. There are about three hundred deer that hang around the town.
I have been hankering to find some trophy antlers shed up on the trails. No longer used for mating fights or grandiose gestures, the antlers the deer worked so hard to make are dropped like yesterday’s lunch in late winter/early spring. If you are wondering why we don’t find more deer antlers on the trails, it’s because other animals eat them due to their high calcium content; nothing is wasted in the great outdoors. Growing the antlers can use up to 30% of a deer’s power grid, often leeching minerals from their bones if the deer isn’t getting enough nutrients from foraging. (Interesting note here, deer will also go through trash bins, eat your hearts out Black Bears) Along with a mammal’s placenta, antlers are the only other temporary and mega fast-growing organ a mammal makes. Humans are interested in studying the possibilities these weird-looking annual spires might lend us.
Antlers offer the unique opportunity to study how nature has achieved full mammalian organ regeneration, in hopes of learning how to repair damaged cells in other mammals including humans. In their article “Deer antler stem cells are a novel type of cells that sustain full regeneration of a mammalian organ—deer antler” published in June 2019, a group of researchers learn about the stem cell characteristics of the antler. It is amazing to read about ground floor research that could result in humans being able to regrow their tissue.
Researchers also study the importance of the pedicle in regards to the new growth. The pedicle is the knobby part on a male deer’s skull. The pedicle grows on the deer during puberty. An integral part of antler growth and regrowth, the pedicle is unique to this regeneration system. The antlers sprout from the pedicle and it houses special trigger cells to make this happen. With this cunning new information about antlers, imagine the possibilities. Barring the use of this research for ethically dubious animal/human mash-ups, I am looking forward to what the future in genetic medicine coupled with regeneration holds for health applications.
So, the black-tailed deer, or The Ashland Rat, as my neighbor likes to call it, is actually quite magnificent. I make no claims as to the best way to co-exist with them, I only thank you for coming along with me on a journey of appreciation to understand how fantastic our scrubby ‘ol Ashland deer truly are. You can check out the City of Ashland’s deer information and wild animal maps here: https://www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=17684
Stay tuned for the next Animals of Ashland Blog Episode, where we explore how to train raccoons to clean the rain gutters. That last sentence was not true–everyone knows a raccoon will only let themselves be trained if there’s a love interest involved.
For more information on deer antler regeneration research:
Wang, D., Berg, D., Ba, H. et al. Deer antler stem cells are a novel type of cells that sustain full regeneration of a mammalian organ—deer antler. Cell Death Dis 10, 443 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41419-019-1686-y Published05 June 2019
Price, Joanna & Faucheux, Corrine & Allen, Steve. (2005). Deer Antlers as a Model of Mammalian Regeneration. Current topics in developmental biology. 67. 1-48. 10.1016/S0070-2153(05)67001-9.