Wildlife biologist explains why deer has 3 antlers

Published: November 18, 2019

deer with three antlers Photo by Steve Lindberg

Well, you don’t see that every day.

Steve Lindberg, an amateur photographer in Michigan, snapped a picture of a rare deer that appears to have three antlers sprouting from its head.

The former U.S. state representative ventures out daily to take photos of wildlife near his home in Marquette, Mich. Recently he spotted a buck hidden between the trees guarding a doe hunkered down in the snow nearby.

“When I was photographing the animal, I wasn’t counting points, all I was doing was trying to compose my photo,” Lindberg said.

After uploading the images to his computer, he noticed the buck’s unusual antler rack.

deer antler pedicles
Photo by Steve Lindberg

It’s left one wildlife biologist scratching his head.

“I’ve never encountered or heard of an animal with multiple or more than two pedicles,” said Keith Munro, a wildlife biologist with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. “It’s possible.”

pedicle deer antlers
Photo by Andi111/Shutterstock

Typically deer have two pedicles–bony structures that antlers grow from. Munro says it’s tough to determine from photos alone if the deer has more than two.

“What could be happening here is either that those antlers are growing from a single pedicle and something happened in the antler’s development that has caused it to split, or it could be that the animal has three pedicles,” he said.

What impacts antler growth?

Antler growth is affected by many different factors including environment and nutrition, along with genetics which is a big component. It also involves a large energy expenditure and depends on minerals like calcium to develop.

“For most of its growth, the antler is contained within something called velvet which is a highly vascularized tissue which provides nutrients, blood supply, and oxygen,” he explained.

“What can happen is, during the development period–which lasts from the spring right up until late summer, early fall– damage to that velvet can cause the development of the antler to develop in strange ways.”

All things considered, he says it doesn’t look like the deer in question has a mineral deficiency in fact he says the “middle antler” looks pretty good.

“What is much more common is, animals that have had their antlers damaged during growth and that can result in strange antler characteristics.”

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