Does Deer Eat Meat?

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In response to a common question that has been circulating on hunter’s platforms; does deer eat meat? Without fear of contradiction, I’d confidently say yes! You are probably doubting, well I have put a few facts to show you that indeed deer eat meat.

It is general knowledge that herbivores eat plants while carnivores eat meat.  Many people, and probably you included, have always thought that deer are exclusively herbivores. Surprisingly, this isn’t the case. They are not the graceful vegetarians you thought they were. Therefore, it should not shock you on seeing a deer preying on a bird and eventually devouring it brutally. 

This nature of plant-eaters also ingesting meat is not only unique with deer. Several other herbivores, including but not limited to hippos, cows, and duikers, have been identified with the meat-eating character.

In the recent past, a farmer in India recorded a video as a cow was eating a newly hatched chick. Another cow in India was reportedly eating 50 chicken. Hippopotamuses have also been severally filmed eating meat to the point that it is impossible to dismiss this as a fluke. Hippos, unlike deer, takes it even further to hunt and kill before eating their prey. A perfect example is an incident in Ethiopia’s Kaffa Province back in 2002 when news of notorious hippopotamuses killing and feeding on livestock made headlines.

Incidences Deer Found Eating Meat

As animals are categorized based on their feeding habits, deer are clustered as ruminants. They have specialized organs and abilities to digest tough plants. For a clear understanding, a common animal in this group is a cow. This makes it hard to imagine a doe as a steak-seeking predator.  

Although deer do not possess the natural hunting instincts as other specialized carnivores do, they target easier prey like hatchlings and bird eggs. Scientists have through cameras, captured deer stumbling upon and snatching up harmless nestlings right from their nests. A group of ornithologists from Canada were on a mission to study adult birds. The scientists trapped birds gently by draping mist-nets between trees, so that they could later release them. Unfortunately, the unthinkable happened. A herd of deer and walked up to the innocent birds eating them alive.

A Scottish biologist documented red deer feasting on seabird chicks. He concluded that the red deer’s meat-eating habit was to boost their diet with supplementary nutrients to help in their antlers’ development. The same biologist cum researcher also went ahead to document sheep brutally eating legs and heads of seabird chicks.

In case you are finding this is hard to believe, then more shock awaits you. With numerous records of deer feeding on other animals, it happens that they could eat human flesh too. Findings of a study aimed at determining the way human remains decompose outlined that deer will make a meal out of human flesh if at all it was available. Scientists pursuing the study observed deer eating human remains for the first time. The researchers found a deer busy chewing a human rib. 

Meat Eating Habits of Deer

With several pieces of research on meat-eating habits of deer, there is proof that the supposed herbivores not only eat birds and fresh meat alone. As weird as it may be, there are instances of deer feeding on other small animals such as squirrels and rabbits, although uncertain whether deer killed the animals by themselves. There are also existing records of deer notoriously devouring dead flesh, such as dead fish that drift to the shore. The supposed exclusive grazers have more than often been spotted enjoying a meal from larger carrions and, at times, even from guts of other dead deer.

By nature, deer as other herbivores are not physically configured and equipped to feed on meat. More often, their teeth are unable to bite through thick skins. This makes it difficult for the deer to rummage through body cavities to get to the nutritious organs. In such cases, the deer’s options are limited, and they, therefore, resolve to munch on the limbs. The question of why deer eat meat is most likely lingering in your mind by now.

Why Do Deer Eat Meat?

With the witnessed cannibalism of the deer and other herbivores with similar behavior, there have been all sorts of speculations and theories trying to explain this behavior. Scientists would have wished that these animals would speak. Unfortunately, none of them would speak up and tell why they occasionally eat meat. Speculations such as the deer could be lacking salt, phosphorus, calcium, iron deficient, or even starvation, have been attributed to this weird behavior. If the iron and salt deficiency theories were true, then these animals would be severally spotted licking salty rocks in the fields. On the contrary, deer eat and swallow big chunks of meat, therefore failing to fully substantiate the above theory, leaving it to just mere speculation.

Evolutionary History of Herbivores

An evolutionary explanation of herbivores cannot back every facet of animal behavior. 

Therefore, it can be an entire possibility that deer feed on meat just because they are capable, and they occasionally feel like having it. Although there is a lack of adequate explanations for animal behaviors, disorder always occurs in the long run. Natural habitats may disappear, food source changes, climatic changes, and ecosystem niches emerge. As a result, some of these highly specialized animals, including deer, will probably become evolutionary dead-ends instead of the generalists.

Generalist species, such as pigs and raccoons, have capabilities to survive in various climatic conditions and habitats and can benefit from different food sources. On the other hand, specialists such as koalas thoroughly exploit a single niche and dominate as long as the niche exists. Koalas entirely feed on eucalyptus leaves.

Herbivores that may be willing to feed on meat occasionally can potentially choose to utilize an available niche as a predator or survive a short starvation period by eating meat when vegetation is scarce. For instance, in the wake of a prolonged drought, herbivores weaken and die, giving a chance for the survivors to scavenge. In such cases, occasional meat consumption may be a way for certain species to maintain a carnivory option. In simpler terms, this is the difference between extinction and survival during emergencies like droughts.

Looking at some evolutionary past of such herbivores, more omnivorous behavior is evident in their past. History has it that about 30 million years ago, the then forms of deer ate small mammals, insects, grubs, baby birds, and eggs in large amounts on top of the ordinary plant matter. In the future, we cannot nullify the possibility of deer preying on humans since evolution continues.

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Most of the many people I have known, old to young, including the youth, go through different phases in life. Though you may think of deer as herbivorous species, it may also be highly possible that they could probably be passing through a particular phase. 

The old-age deer might have eaten a lot of meat, and their descendants may eventually do it again. Meanwhile, they could be indulging very so often in meat-eating when no one is paying no attention.

Opposed to a fully- committed herbivore, an animal with a flexible diet is more adaptable and likely to survive. Today, if you meet a herd of deer feeding on meat, they have no clue of the evolution ideology. They literally understand nothing to do with the varying levels of salt, protein, or even iron. All they do is bump into nestlings or a steak of meat from a dead animal, smell it, and develop the urge to eat it. If you come to think of this, you would pretty much agree that it could be the same reason some people grow up as vegetarians and eventually start eating meat out of the blues.   

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