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Desert Diary
Mammals/Sabertooth Deer


The even-hoofed animals all display armament of one type or another. We recognize that members of that vast family known as bovids, which includes such familiar creatures as cattle, sheep, and goats, have horns. We also note that the many kinds of deer, such as our Mule Deer, the Elk, and the northern Moose and Caribou, possess antlers. We often think of these as defensive weapons against predators. However, students of animal behavior recognize them as also being part of the struggle among males for mates. In many cases, this is as much a matter of intimidation as actual battle. After all, discretion is the better part of valor when you're out-gunned.

So used are we in our desert, and indeed in all of North America, to the antler as the hallmark of deer, that it comes as a shock to find that some Asiatic forms, such as the Chinese Water Deer, lack antlers. But unarmed? Hardly! Elongated upper canine teeth take their place. The Chihuahuan Desert really seems kind of dull, without even one sabertooth deer!
pen and ink

Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

artist's rendition of skull of Chinese Water Deer

Artist's rendition of the skull of a Chinese Water Deer. The proportions of the skull and teeth have been preserved.



Novak, R. M. 1999. Walker's mammals of the world. 6th ed., 2 vol., Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.