04 October 2010

How far back can a deer in the rain remember?

My after-lunch walk in a nearby park today interrupted the doings of a couple of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in the light rain. After a moment of hesitation, the slightly larger and braver one, presumably the mother, darted across the path and disappeared behind the trees. By the time I had fished out my iPhone and turned the camera on, the smaller deer was all alone eyeing me nervously from behind a strip of grass.

I started taking pictures while approaching the deer slowly. Meanwhile, it raised its tail and began to stomp the ground with its right hoof. This was a behavior pattern I hadn't noticed in deer before. Was it warning me not to come closer? (Or else, what?) Was it communicating with the other deer, which it could perhaps see or smell behind the trees?

When I was too close for comfort, the deer ran about 20 meters away and stopped. It could have continued to run away along the path or into the wooded area behind it. It didn't do so, because it apparently intended to go after its mother. It either know by sight or smell or some other means that the mother was still there or remembered that she had gone across the path. By this time 2-3 minutes had passed since the mother had disappeared. Can a deer remember a event that took place that long ago?

Finally, it gathered up enough courage and dashed for the other side. I was able to get one final picture.

Now that several hours have past, does the deer still remember its encounter with me?

1 comment:

xoggoth said...

Why not? Isn't much of their behaviour learned rather than instinctive?

Even Bees and Wasps remember where food or their nests are. Wasps will always return to their jam and it can't just be scent as they will still turn up there when I've moved it and it's been pouring with rain.