Understand mammal behaviour – part 9: muntjac deer

Discover all you need to know about muntjac deer. 

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Discover all you need to know about muntjac deer. 

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Muntjac are widespread in British woodlands, but they are often overlooked because, being no bigger than a medium-sized dog, they are hidden by tall vegetation for much of the summer.

Therefore winter is the ideal time to look for them. They breed throughout the year, so there are few seasonal differences in behaviour.

Scent-marking

Muntjac are largely solitary and territorial, and they use scent to communicate more often than deer that live in larger groups.

Look out for individuals rubbing the long v-shaped slits on their foreheads (their frontal glands) onto twigs or the ground.

They also have two large glands located just in front of the eyes, called the pre-orbital glands.

Muntjac frequently lick these with their long tongues, presumably in order to help them recognise their own scent.

During periods of excitement, such as courtship or when defecating and urinating, these glands may be opened and wiped against twigs. Males scent-mark more than females, and dominant males more than subordinates.

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A disturbed muntjac usually gives a few barks, then flees with its tail held aloft. © Federico Gemma

Barking

Muntjac are extremely vocal, hence their other name ‘barking deer’. Though it is called a ‘bark’, the sound is more like a scream and can be mistaken for a fox.

A muntjac will invariably give a few barks when disturbed – this is usually the first sign that you have been spotted. Then all you are likely to see is the animal bouncing off with its tail held up, displaying the white underside as a warning to other deer.

Does often call just after giving birth. They may bark more than 100 times in succession to attract bucks. They mate within hours of giving birth, so females spend virtually all of their adult lives pregnant.

Find out more about the work of illustrator Federico Gemma. 

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