When people think of deer, they imagine moose, elk, or reindeer; animals more associated with temperate regions rather than the Caribbean. The Caribbean however, actually has several native deer species. They live in parts of the mainland considered to be Caribbean, like Central America, the Guianas, and the eastern part of the Gulf Coast. They are also naturally occurring on some islands like Trinidad, Margarita, and Curacao.
These are the four types of deer native to the Caribbean, which all belong to a subfamily known as New World Deer;
White-Tailed Deer – Odocoileus Virginianus
The White-Tailed Deer is the most widespread deer species in all of the Americas. They range from the taiga forest of western Canada, all the way down to coastal Peru. There are quite a few sub-species of White Tailed Deer native to the Caribbean as they live in the Guianas, the Caribbean coast of South America, and the Yucatan peninsula.
They are also naturally occurring on some islands. Odocoileus Virginianus Margaritae is native to Margarita island, and Odocoileus Virginianus Curassavicus is native to Curacao. Both subspecies have been isolated from the Odocoileus Virginianus Cariacou that have lived in South America for about 400,000 years. On the Florida Keys, there is also a sub-species of White-Tailed Deer known as Odocoileus Virginianus Clavium or Key Deer that is most closely related to the Odocoileus Virginianus Seminolus that lives in Florida.
All of the White-Tailed Deer that live on Caribbean islands are much smaller than the largest representatives of their species. For example, the Key Deer is about one fifth the weight of the Odocoileus Virginianus Borealis, or northern white-tailed deer which is the largest sub-species. Male White-Tailed Deer in the Caribbean still have branching antlers, although they are relatively small.
Yucatan Brown Brocket – Odocoileus Pandora
The Yucatan Brown Brocket is closely related to the White-Tailed Deer, although until recently it was thought to be a member of the brocket deer family due to having smaller horns typical of brockets. This creature only lives in the Yucatan Peninsula, and it shares its range with White-Tailed Deer and the Central American Red Brocket.
The remaining species of brocket deer all belong within the Mazama genus, however ongoing research is suggesting that the relationship between the members of this genus is more complex than previously thought. For example, the Grey Brocket might be more closely related to another South American species known as Marsh Deer than it is to the Red Brockets.
Three types of brocket deer can be found across the Caribbean.
Red Brocket – Mazama Americana
Most brocket deer live in the Caribbean mainland of Central America and South America. The red brocket lives in South America, but it is also native to Trinidad.
Unlike most deer, the antlers are very small, and spike-like. Only on older males, is there any visible branching of the antlers. They typically weigh about the same as Key Deer, but their build is more suited to thick forest. Unlike Margarita, Curacao, and the Florida Keys where deer are protected, deer in Trinidad are considered to be a game animal that is very popular with hunters.
Central American Red Brocket – Mazama Temama
The Central American Red Brocket was previously considered to be a subspecies of Red Brocket, but it is now classified as a separate species since it diverged from other red brocket deer about two million years ago. They reside in most of Central America, as well as the Caribbean coast of Colombia.
Amazonian Brown Brocket – Mazama Nemorivaga
This closely related brocket species looks almost identical to the Red Brocket, but it lacks the more vibrant crimson hue. It inhabits most of northern South America, and the Caribbean regions where it occurs include the Guianas, and the Caribbean coastal areas of Colombia and Venezuela. There is one example of a population residing on an island, however this is not in the Caribbean; It is on one of the Pearl Islands, off the coast of Panama in the Pacific Ocean.
Featured Image Source; Flickr
More on the Natural History of the Caribbean.