This is Big Momma, the older dominant doe you’ve seen a lot in these posts.
Another pic of her from today, scarfing some Osage Orange trimmings. Note her long muzzle and the prominent veins on her face, a sign of age (I can definitely relate). She’s a wise animal with lots of life experience – she raised two healthy fawns last year, and likely will do so for many more springs.
And this is Browntail, her yearling daughter and one of those twins from last year (brother is a young buck, I don’t see him much anymore). Today these two does finally revealed whose fawns are whose – and my shocking first thought was correct (see previous post if you don’t know what I’m talking about). Browntail is indeed the young mother of not just one, but two fawns. Quite an accomplishment for a deer “teen mom”, but apparently possible when forage is good (in rich Ohio farmland, about 21% of doe fawns that breed have twins).
Big Momma usually has two fawns each spring; though this week I’ve seen her with just one. As a mature doe in good habitat, she will more often than not have twins each year throughout her lifetime of 10 to 15 years (barring disease, accidents or predators). Double births are the rule with Whitetails when food is abundant; two separate eggs are fertilized, which grow in a two-horned uterus! Apparently the chances of one surviving are better if you start with two. This opens up the possibility of double paternity as well – the theory of the big dominant buck doing all the breeding is coming into question! See this very interesting webpage for more.
The twins above are Browntail’s; it will be interesting to see how capable a mother she is. At BCSNP the dangers are few and the eats are good, but coyotes do predate on fawns. The fact that such a young doe bore twins tells us a lot about the habitat. And why is summertime forage so good? The intensive bush honeysuckle removal work we’ve done over the past 5 years is really having an effect – open areas that were dominated by this shrub now support blackberry thickets and a variety of herbaceous plants. The degree of browse on the blackberries shows how valuable they are to deer. Many of the canes show browse, and new leaves sprouting from the stem, as in the pic below.
If a thorny blackberry stem doesn’t seem very palatable, remember this is tender new growth and the thorns at the growing tip are still soft.
So is our forest work responsible for accelerating the growth of the deer population at BCSNP? Possibly; but it is part of our mission to improve habitat for all endemic flora and fauna, so we can’t pick and choose. A more open forest with blackberry-filled gaps is certainly a livelier place for most species than the darkly shady, biologically barren stands of Bush Honeysuckle that developed over the last few decades.
But heavy deer browse is tough on young tree and herbaceous diversity alike. There is one family of plants that is relatively immune to browsing – the mints. In this forest, native mints like Bergamot, Monarda fistulosa, Bee Balm, Monarda didyma and Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum sp. are untouched by deer, having evolved distasteful “secondary compounds”.
The three mints in the pics above grow unmolested by deer in sunny gaps and on edges at BCSNP. All grew from seed collected from other sites, then scattered by hand in late fall.
Since the blogger will be on vacation for a few weeks, this post is also crammed with recent forest happenings:
Back in two weeks or so, with pics of Guatemalan flora and fauna!