The White Deer of Patuxent
When Patuxent Research Refuge (Patuxent) was established in 1936 the original 2,650 acres (now mainly the Central Tract) did not have any white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Patuxent now includes 12,800 acres and is still officially known as Patuxent Research Refuge, although the research program comes under Patuxent Wildlife Research Center of the USGS. Deer had been extirpated from this area in the last century from a combination of factors, but predominantly from hunting and extensive land clearing for farming. Deer were absent at Patuxent, in most of Maryland, and in many parts of the east.
In 1902 the Maryland General Assembly made it illegal to hunt deer throughout the state, and this ban continued until 1929, when hunting of deer was again legalized. Some deer were imported into Maryland and released in the early 1900s in an attempt to rebuild populations. Other deer were raised in large enclosed forest areas and released into other areas. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, about 2,000 deer from Aberdeen Proving Grounds, which had been protected for many years, were trapped and transplanted throughout the state.
Bill Stickel classified deer at Patuxent as very rare in the early 1940s, but as abundant and destructive in the 1970s. The first surveys to estimate the number of deer at the Central Tract of Patuxent began in January, 1975 and continued once a year until 1979 (5-year ave.= 96 deer). In 1988, the survey was reinstituted and is now conducted every year.
Although not representing the total population, counts in the Central Tract give a good approximation of the number of deer and an indication of population trend. The population during 1988-93 increased (6-year ave.= 214 deer). Counts since 1993 indicated population numbers ranging from a low of 322 in 1996 to a high of 357 in 1998. This trend has also been noticed throughout Maryland and the Northeast. The increase in deer during this period has been attributed to the unusually mild winters and excellent habitat conditions.
Piebald deer (partially white) are from a recessive genetic trait and the deer usually become more prevalent due to overpopulation of a deer herd. Some piebald deer were observed in a study conducted by the Southeastern Wildlife Disease Center in the 1960s and many have been seen in subsequent years. Although Patuxent staff has never recorded what is considered an albino deer (all white with pink eyes) there have been several deer that have over 90 % white pelage. Most white deer are short-lived and usually have abnormalities, such as deformed feet.
Results of a special study conducted by a high school student, indicated that white deer of Patuxent are not ostracized by normal colored deer. In 1998, there was a twin piebald deer at Patuxent with a normal colored sibling, and white deer have given birth to normal colored fawns. The following list is of five white deer that have had over 50% white and have been seen at Patuxent for several years.
WHITE DEER - PATUXENT RESEARCH REFUGE
General: 80% white
Right side: brown shoulder, brown brow; brown patch before rear legs
Left side: not seen
Spring 1976 - Near Hance Farm Barn - (photo Matt Perry)
General: 90% white; appears to have small head, big ears; brown on tail tip and brown rear leg hocks
Right side: all white, except some light brown flecks on neck and brown spot behind shoulder
Left side: all white, except some light brown flecks on neck and brown spot behind shoulder
Fall 1989 - Knowles Marsh 1 during drawdown - (photo by Matt Perry)
Feb 1990 - Knowles Marsh 1 field - (photo by Matt Perry)
Oct 1990 - (photo by Holly Obrecht)
Nov 1990 - Hance field near Coburn Lab (photos by MaryAnn McKeough)
Summer 1991 - (photo by Matt Perry)
August 1992 (?) - appears to have a fawn with a white belly and sides (photos by Steve Noyes)
Feb 1993 - under low powerlines in Hance Field near Coburn Lab (photo by Jonathan Male)
Spring 1993 - Knowles Marsh 1 field - (video by Woody Martin)
No date - near Cedar Lane in snow (photo by Jonathan Male)
General: Endangered Species area; 95% white; brown ears
Right side: small brown flecks on shoulder
Left side: small brown flecks on shoulder
Nov 1989 - woods near Patuxent Pond (photo by Matt Perry)
Feb 1990 - field near lower storage barn (photo by Matt Perry)
General: 75% white; brown on two rear leg hocks; end of tail brown; brown brow; white nose; base of ears white
Right side: mostly white; brown neck; brown flecks on shoulder; one small brown spot behind shoulder
Left side: many irregular spots on side
Jan 1991 - (photo by Linda Garrett)
Dec 1992 - PEPCO ROW - (photo by Holly Obrecht)
Dec 1992 - (photo by Peter Osenton)
Aug 1993 - (photo by Matt Perry)
No date - Near PEPCO utility pole in sumac area behind brown doe - (photo by Nell Baldacchino)
General: overall 80% white; tail 100% white; white nose; brown brow
Right side: big brown patch on shoulder with a white spot in middle; patch on hind quarter in shape of Africa
Left side: big brown patch on shoulder with a white spot in middle; patch on hind quarter in shape of broad Av@
Jan 1993 - near Coburn Lab (photo by Jonathan Male)
July 1994 - PEPCO ROW in sumac area (photo by Jonathan Male)
Oct 1994 - (photo by John and Karen Hollingsworth)
Mid-Oct 1995 - Near Log Cabin (photo by Holly Obrecht)
July 1997 - (photo by Matt Perry)
July 1997 - Knowles Marsh 1 (photo by Khristi Wilkins)
Dec 1998 - Killed in special deer harvest Central Tract; dressed weight 76 pounds; front hooves overlapping and upturned; enlarged knots on ankles.