What’s Growing This Spring?

March 23, 2010 at 5:21 pm Leave a comment

Spring is the time for new growth, and at Maymont, you might even see “sprouts” on our animals.  Beginning in March and April, the male white-tailed deer (called bucks) start to develop their new antlers, a specialized bone tissue that grows afresh each year. Throughout the spring and summer, you’ll notice that antlers are covered with a fuzzy tissue called “velvet.”  Velvet carries a strong flow of nutrients and blood that help the antlers grow very quickly.  Antlers have been reported to grow up to a half inch per day!  In late summer and fall, the flow of blood to the velvet subsides, the antlers harden and the deer start to sharpen their antlers by rubbing them on trees (which also removes the velvet).  The bucks use the antlers in displays of dominance and fighting that attract the females (called does) in the fall mating season.  Eventually, the antlers fall off after the mating season is over.

In the same habitat, you may notice that the bison also have specialized ornaments on their head.  This head gear is very different and does not have to be re-grown from start to finish every year like a deer’s antlers.  Bison have horns similar to sheep and goats, and interestingly, both male and female bison grow horns. (Maymont has three female bison in its collection).  Like many species with horns, bison start growing their horns soon after birth and continue to grow them throughout their life.  If they are damaged at a young age, sometimes a horn can become deformed.  As the animal becomes older, the rate of horn growth slows significantly.

Generally, true horns can come in various shapes, but all have a core of living bone surrounded by an outer covering of proteins including keratin (much like what makes our fingernails). 

Stop by the bison and white-tailed deer exhibit to see their cool head gear for yourself.  While different for each species, it is truly an amazing feature of the animals.

Whitetail Deer

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Party Animals Can you guess which Maymont animal is pictured below?

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Buz Bireline, Director of Habitats & the Nature Center at Maymont

Buz Bireline

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