The Key to Whitetail Communication

For more insights on the science behind the whitetail’s sense of smell, check out the August 2009 issue.

How do whitetails communicate with each other?Deer usually track each another by the discharge from their interdigital gland, which is located between their two hoofs. This gland apparently does not begin to function in newborns for a week or more because the doe is not able to track her own fawns. This lack of a scent trail means that predators are not able to track the fawn, either.

The interdigital gland is a major means of communication among adult deer. Top behaviorists like Deer & Deer Hunting’s Leonard Lee Rue III were among the first to realize this whitetail gland is far more important to deer than most researchers had suspected. Researchers first became aware of that when they noticed deer always lick the gland clean after they cross muddy areas.

Deer live in a world of scent, a world that we can only speculate about. In addition to interdigital glands, communication scents are emitted by forehead, preorbital, nasal, salivary, tarsal, metatarsal, and preputial glands. With these scents, a deer is communicating its sex, size, status, readiness for breeding, food that it is eating, familial affiliation, etc.

Thomas Atkeson and Larry Marchinton discovered the significance of a whitetail’s sudoriferous glands in 1992.  Previously unknown to humans, these glands are located beneath a deer’s forehead skin. The researchers’ study showed that both bucks and does have these glands, but bucks are much more richly endowed with them.

The researchers also discovered that, although the glands are basically quiescent during most of the year, they become greatly enlarged during the rut.

For more insights on the science behind the whitetail’s sense of smell, check out the August 2009 issue.

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