Episode 51 – Water Deer: The Fanged Forrest Fawn

“…and today we’re talking about a creature whose binomial name means defenseless water drinker in latin. But more on that later.”

As the deer pants by the water, it must keep a sharp eye out for predators. Once they turn their heads down to take a few sips of that life-giving elixir, they’re vulnerable to everything the forest hides in its depths. One deer that walks the banks of the great Yangtze River, may seem like its forsaken the traditional cervid adaptations, which has left it totally defenseless. But upon closer inspection, you can see that it’s taken the anatomical road less traveled. But revolutionary evolution is our favorite topic here on Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Measure Up

Length – 2.5 to 3.3 feet – average 2.9 feet (88.3 cm) – How many water deer go into the length of the Yangtze river. Hint: The Yangtze river is the longest river in China and has played a significant role in the region’s history, culture, and economy. Answer: 7,191,724 water deer

Weight – 20-31 lbs (9–14 kg) – average 25.5 lbs (11.5 kg) – How many water deer go into Kasugaō Katsumasa (Kaz-you-gow Cat-su-masa), a South Korean former sumo wrestler? Hint: Kasugaō was raised by his mother after his father died when he was young. He started competing in Ssireum (a Korean wrestling sport similar to Sumo) and won a national competition in 1998. This caused him to be noticed by the stable master of the Kasugayama stable in Japan, where he would make his professional debut that same year. Kasugaō saw wrestling as an opportunity support his family and help his mother who worked hard raise him. Unfortunately, after and impressive career, he was found guilty of bout-rigging and was ordered to retire in 2011. Answer: 13 water deer.

Major Fact

The water deer is completely without antlers. A trait that earned it “defenseless” as a species name.

Instead, the water deer has developed two long canines that protrude from its mouth like a pair of vampire teeth. For that reason, I’m giving it the bonus nickname “the saber-toothed cervid.” Bucks have longer canines at as much as two inches long. While does canines are only about five millimeters long. The teeth start growing around the deer’s first fall. They continue to grow until about two years old. 60 percent of the tooth is exposed below the gum.

But why does a deer do with big old sharp teeth?

If you were to see a water deer just standing around, you’d notice that his canines seem to grow straight down. These teeth appear to be in the way and cumbersome for poor male deer. However, he’s got a trick up his gum. The tooth is loose in the gum socket and they game move around like he’s about to get a cool 50 cents from the ol’ tooth fairy. But they don’t fall out. Instead, they are able to use their facial muscles to move the teeth at will. When they’re eating, they pull them back out of the way so that their pointing behind them. This allows them to chop away without getting their faces tangled up in branches.

However, the real majorness of this fact is how they use these face daggers for defense. If they get into an aggressive encounter, they will point the teeth forward. Then they’ll pull their lips up to draw them in, pointing them forward rather than out. Now their ready to jut and joust at insolent passersby. It’s mostly used against rival males. When it comes to predators like cougars and Siberian tigers, it’s more likely to just skeedadle. Males are often seen with scars on their face, heads, and necks because of territorial disputes with other males.


Who says Christmas time is all about Reindeer? The water deer may not be in the spirit of the season, but they are the front runners of season six of Life, Death, and Taxonomy. Hey! Why not give you’re old pals at LDT a Christmas present in the form of a review. Head on over to your podcast app and send us your thoughts and stars. Besides, five of those shiny celestial representations should remind you that Christmas celebrates the event when the natal star marked the birth of Jesus, who came to save the world from sin and death! I guess Christmas really isn’t all about Reindeer after all.