Caudal flagging in the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) is surprisingly complex

Anyone with an interest in ungulates knows that the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus, raises its tail, showing the white underside.

However, what is not widely realised is how complex, versatile, and expansive the demonstrations of alarm are in this species.

The white-tailed deer, engaged in foraging, jerks up its head in routine vigilance, then lowers the head to resume foraging. Each time it suddenly raises the head, it tends to flick the tail.

When the white-tailed deer suspects the approach of a predator, it shows various combinations of 'foot-stamping', tail-flagging and alarm-sneezing, as follows.

  • The forefeet are lifted high but not stamped hard, suggesting that the main message sent is olfactory, from the interdigital glands.
  • The tail may be raised to a rigid horizontal position (, and this seems to be a purely visual signal.
  • Sometimes, the signal instead given is that the tail is flicked up synchronously with each alarm-sneeze, without any piloerection of white pelage on the hindquarters.

Variation in the repertoire thus depends on the pattern of movement of the tail, and whether white hairs are piloerected (flared) or not ( and and

Sometimes the tail remains down, but the long pelage on the buttocks is piloerected as the animal stands in initial alarm ( and third photo in

As suspense builds, the animal may flick the tail up and down, without piloerection, while walking stiff-legged, before running.

Once fleeing begins:

Erection of the tail and piloerection on the tail/buttocks tend to be most frequent in

Adult males sometimes tuck the tail while fleeing, thus failing to show any caudal flag ( ). This may tend to be when females are absent.

The sexual difference in displays is consistent with the tendency for males to have relatively short tails and relatively short pelage on the buttocks.

I remain unsure about the incidence of stotting in the white-tailed deer, as opposed to the mule deer, or hybrids between O. virginianus and O. hemionus. This uncertainty adds to the overall complexity of the reactions of the white-tailed deer in alarm.

Posted on 19 June, 2021 09:29 by milewski milewski



Posted by milewski 4 months ago


Posted by milewski 4 months ago


Please could you help me with the following?

Everyone knows that the mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus hemionus) stots consistently, indeed so consistently that fleeing and stotting are virtually synonymous in this subspecies.

Everyone also knows that stotting is not typically associated with Odocoileus virginianus.

However, this does not necessarily mean that O. virginianus never stots. Perhaps it does stot in certain circumstances, particularly in the case of juveniles? Perhaps its stotting gait differs from that of O. h. hemionus?

So, which of the following statements are true?
a) Odocoileus virginianus categorically never stots.
b) Odocoileus virginianus does sometimes stot, regardless of hybridisation with O. hemionus.
c) Even if Odocoileus virginianus sometimes stots, it never stots by means of the same stotting gait as is typical in O. h. hemionus.

Posted by milewski 4 months ago

I''ve not had much experience with whitetails. I've read a study on escape gaits of deer that determined that whitetails don't use the stott. I'll have to look it up and send a link to it.

Posted by beartracker 4 months ago


Many thanks, I would be grateful for that information...

Posted by milewski 4 months ago

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