Key Deer: Odocoileus virginianus clavium
The Key deer is the smallest of all white-tailed deer. Bucks
range from 28-32 inches at the shoulder and weigh an average of 80
pounds, while does stand 24-28" at the shoulder and weigh an
average of 65 pounds.
The Key deer is a subspecies of the white-tailed deer and is
only found in the keys of southern Florida.
The Key deer's historical range probably extended from Key Vaca
to Key West. Their current range includes approximately 26 islands
from Big Pine Key to Sugarloaf Key. Due to uncontrolled hunting and
habitat destruction, their numbers were estimated at less than 50
animals in the 1940's. With the establishment of National Key deer
Refuge in 1957 and intensive law enforcement efforts, the
population has since increased and has now stabilized. A research
study completed in 2000 estimated the population between 700 and
800 deer with two-thirds of this population located on Big Pine
Key deer use all habitat types within their range, including pine
rocklands, hardwood hammocks, mangroves, and freshwater wetlands.
Pine rocklands are of particular importance because they contain
permanent freshwater sources, which are essential for their
survival. Key deer feed on over 160 species of plants including the
native red, black and white mangroves and thatch palm berries. As
human development has increased within the range of the Key deer
they have increased their use of residential and commercial areas
where they feed on ornamental plants.
The increase in the human population has led to an increase in
illegal feeding of Key deer. As with other wildlife, feeding or
enticing Key deer is harmful for many reasons, but primarily
because it lessens their fear of humans. Key deer can be found
foraging in yards and on the sides of most roads where they eagerly
approach people and slow moving vehicles for hand-outs. Road kills
account for 70 percent of the annual mortality of Key deer. Illegal
feeding also causes a concentration of deer, facilitating the
spread of parasites and disease.
So head down to the National Key Deer Wildlife Refuge to view this
unique subspecies but keep a respectful distance and only offer
them your appreciation.