Key Deer: Odocoileus virginianus clavium

Taxonomic Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Cervidae
Genus/Species: Odocoileus virginianus
Subspecies: Odocoileus virginianus clavium
Common Name: Key deer

Listing Status

Federal Status: Endangered
FL Status: Federally-designated Endangered
FNAI Ranks: G5T1/S1 (Globally: Demonstrably Secure, Sub sp. Critically Imperiled/State: Critically Imperiled)
IUCN Status: LC (Least Concern)

Physical Description

The Key deer is the smallest subspecies of the white–tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus).  Key deer have a light to dark-brown dorsal (back) side, white belly, and black snout.  Bucks can reach heights (shoulders down) of 28-32 inches (71-81 centimeters) and an average weight of 80 pounds (36 kilograms), while a doe can reach heights of 24-28 inches (61-71 centimeters) and an average weight of 65 pounds (29 kilograms). 

Life History

The diet of the Key deer consists of 160 species of plants including red, black, and white mangroves, and thatch palm berries.

Breeding begins in the fall and winter (National Wildlife Federation, n.d.).  During courtship, males become very aggressive with other males that are competing for the same female.  The two males will charge each other and lock antlers in a fight over the rights to mate with the female (Schaefer and Main, n.d.).  Fighting can be so intense that it can result in the death of one or both deer.  The gestation period for the Key deer is 200 days, with fawns being born between April and June.  Females usually give birth to one offspring a year, with the offspring averaging a weight of two to four pounds (.9 – 1.8 kilograms) (National Wildlife Federation, n.d.).   Males reach sexual maturity at the age of 1.5 years, while females reach sexual maturity at six months (E. Garrison pers. comm. 2011). 

Habitat and Distribution

Key Deer Distribution MapKey deer use many habitats in the Florida Keys including pine rocklands, hardwood hammocks, mangroves, and freshwater wetlands.  The Key deer can only be found from Big Pine Key to Sugarloaf Key.


The Key deer has faced an array of threats through history.  Over-hunting caused extensive harm to the Key deer population until hunting was banned in the 1950’s (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 1999).  Today’s threats include habitat degradation, destruction, and alteration.  Habitat alteration at the hands of urban development has caused a substantial loss in available vegetation and natural resources, as well as causing habitat to become fragmented.  Fences have caused migration routes to be obstructed.  Feeding by people, an illegal practice, also poses threats to the Key deer through the spread of disease and parasites in their foraging areas.  Feeding any wild animals can cause harm to them, as continuous feeding can result in dependence on people for food.  Other threats include increased traffic in the Florida Keys and domesticated animals (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 1999).

Conservation and Management

The Key deer is protected as an Endangered species by the Federal Endangered Species Act and as a Federally-designated Endangered species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule External Website

Federal Recovery Plan External Website

Other Informative Links

Florida Natural Areas Inventory External Website
FWC Species Profile
International Union for Conservation of Nature External Website
National Wildlife Federation External Website
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Species Conservation Guidelines External Website
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Species Profile External Website
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Key Deer Refuge External Website



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National Wildlife Federation. (n.d.). Wildlife Library. Retrieved May 12, 2011, from Key deer: External Website.

Schaefer, J., & Main, B. M. (n.d.). White-Tailed Deer of Florida. Retrieved May 12, 2011, from Institute of Food and Agriculture Science: External Website.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. (18, May 1999). Key deer. Retrieved May 12, 2011, from Multi Species Recovery Plan for South Florida: External Website.

Image Credit FWC

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