BIG PINE KEY – KEY DEER Our next stop was Big Pine Key where we searched for the tiny Key Deer, a greatly endangered subspecies of the White-Tail or Virginia deer. These deer have never lived on the mainland of Florida and are considered to have reached the Keys when oceans levels shrank and allowed the formation of land bridges between the islets. In coloration, the Key Deer are very similar to Virginia Deer but they are much smaller. Adult male Key Deer stand 30 inches & weigh between 55 & 75 lbs. Like their larger cousins, the Virginia Deer, males produce antlers in season while the females do not. Key Deer females stand 26 inches and weigh between 44 & 64 pounds. In contrast, male Virginia deer weight an average of 150 lbs. and stand 3.3 ft. tall. Their females weigh about 100 lbs. and stand 2.6 feet. The delicate little Key Deer are the smallest deer species in North America. They are now protected in a National Key Deer Preserve which spans 400,000 acres over several of the Keys. But there are many threats to their existence including habitat loss due to a huge human influx into the Keys, collisions with cars, and now an invasion of screw-worms, introduced into the Keys about 10 years ago. It is such a sickening problem that I am not going to describe it—look it up if you are interested. Despite all that, we saw many of the little creatures—males with antlers, females with fawns, and adolescents. We were happy that we saw none that looked sickly or weakened. Some were in residents’ front yards peacefully browsing whatever vegetation struck their fancy; others we spotted on short hikes into the back country of their preserve. Good pictures were gotten by all the photographers.
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