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  The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition

Sika Deer*
Order Artiodactyla : Family Cervidae : Cervus nippon Temminck

Sika Deer (Cervus nippon).  Photo by John L. Tveten. A small to medium sized deer that, due to extensive hybridization in Texas, is highly variable in size and coloration. In general, sika are all "compact" in form; appear "dainty-legged"; and have a short, trim, wedge-shaped head. Males carry antlers that average 28-48 cm in length, although exceptional racks may be up to 74 cm in length. Sika antlers have 3-4 points branching from a main beam; there is no palmate growth as in the fallow deer. Females have a pair of black bumps on the forehead, their placement corresponding to that of the males’s antlers.

Coloration is drab brown to a deep, mahogany brown mottled with numerous white spots. The degree of spotting is highly variable, however, and in some individuals spotting may be absent. The head, as well as the hair tuft over each metatarsal gland, tends to be lighter than the body. A distinctive, white rump patch is evident, especially when the animal is alerted.

Texas sika range in size from 76-89 cm shoulder height and 45-80 kg for the smaller Japanese and Formosan varieties to 89-109 cm shoulder height and 68-109 kg for the larger Dybowski’s variety. Female Dybowski’s sika stand about 81 cm in height and weigh 45-50 kg.

Distribution in Texas. Formerly, sika were native from southern Siberia and the adjacent Japanese island of Hokkaido south, along both the mainland and islands, to southeastern China and Formosa. Sika have rapidly disappeared from much of their range due to habitat loss. Sika have been introduced in 77 counties of central and southern Texas, with free-ranging populations known from 12 of these counties. In 1988, the total statewide population was estimated to be 11,879.

Habits. Sika are woodland deer characteristic of broad-leaved and mixed forests where snowfall does not exceed 10-20 cm and snow-free sites are also available. Large forest tracts with dense understory and occasional clearings are ideal; the patchwork of brush cover and open grassland found in the Edwards Plateau and South Texas regions are well-suited to these deer.

Sika feed on grasses, leaves, twigs, and tender shoots of woody plants depending on seasonal availability. In Texas, the spring preference is for grasses, although browse may also be consumed regularly, and browse use increases after the flush of spring growth has passed. The most important food for sika in Texas is live oak, with hackberry, wild plum, mustang grape, Texas sotol, and greenbriar also serving as important browse species. Favored grasses include Texas wintergrass, fall witchgrass, and meadow dropseed. Forb use generally increases in summer, and is lowest in winter.

Sika males are territorial and keep harems of females during the rut, which peaks from early September through October but may last well into the winter months. Territory size varies with type of habitat and size of the buck; strong, prime bucks may hold up to 2 ha. Territories are marked with a series of shallow pits, called "scrapes," into which the males urinate and from which emanates a strong, musky odor. Fights between rival males are sometimes fierce, long, and may even be fatal.

The time of fawning is primarily May through August. After a 7 - 8 month gestation period a single fawn is born; twins are rare. Zoo longevity records typically range from 15-18 years, although an exceptionally long lifespan of 25 years, 5 months is known for one animal.

* nonnative species

Photo credit: John L. Tveten.