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How to Tell the Difference Between Deer and Antelope

One of the most popular cases of species identification, the deer and the antelope are often mistaken to be one. Here's a list of factors differentiating the two.

The Male Deer Is a Buck and the Female a Doe (Image Courtesy- Sushil Chikane)

The deer and the antelope look similar to the untrained eye or that of a wildlife non-enthusiast, and similar they are — both are even-toed ungulates and herbivores. But they have several differences. Let’s have a look.

The Main Difference Between the Two Can Be Listed on the Basis of the Following Factors -

Antlers and Horns:

One of the easiest ways to tell these two apart is by their headgear. Antelopes have horns. Both sexes grow a set of permanent horns in various shapes – they may be dead straight, curved, ridged or twisty. Horns, however, are never branched. These are used by antelopes mainly as a defence mechanism – to fight off threats from predators during combat or rivals amongst their own herd. 

Deer, on the other hand, have antlers (funny, isn’t it? One would assume that antlers are headgear of the antelopes, seeing as how the two words are so similar!) which take on a branched appearance. Only males have antlers; the female deer have no headgear. These antlers are shed every winter and regrow in spring. Antlers are used mainly to impress the other sex and to display dominance against potential male counterparts during the mating season.

Families:

While both are similar in appearance when you consider the entire animal kingdom, the deer and the antelope come from completely different families – the antelope belongs to the Bovidae family while the deer is from the Cervidae family.

Antelopes Use Horns to Fight Other Antelopes (Image Courtesy- Sushil Chikane)

Speed:

Most species of deer can run as fast as 35 miles per hour, but for short distances. Deer can keep up their speed in short spurts only, and lack the endurance to keep up the same for long distances. Antelopes, on the other hand, are much faster. Some antelopes can almost give the cheetah a run for its money – hitting about 55 miles an hour. Not just this, they can keep up the speeds up to 25 miles per hour for long distances too!

Markings:

A notable marking on an antelope is a white streak down both sides of its face and a dusky patch just above its nose. Deer, on the other hand, have many markings and lack one common marking trait on them.

Having read the above differences, you are now certain to distinguish a deer from an antelope!

Uma Athale

Uma Athale

Jeevoka member since Sep 2019

With a Master’s degree in Wildlife Conservation and Management from the University of Reading, England, I have worked with wildlife in various capacities in India and abroad, including invasive species management, species reintroduction, rehabilitation, and human-animal conflict mitigation, among others. I am also a co-author of There’s Many a Way to Keep the Elephant Away: a manual discussing various methods of human-elephant conflict mitigation published by Project Elephant.
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