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How Many Subspecies of Whitetail Deer are there in the U.S.?

Andrew McKean Avatar


A reader recently sent in this question:
How many subspecies of whitetail deer are there in the United States? I’ve heard everything from a dozen to more than 80. _

Short answer: more than you think. Long answer…

The latest census of whitetails indicates nearly 40 subspecies from Canada through central South America, with 16 mainly in the U.S. That’s a substantially lower number than previously described, a result of modern genetic testing that indicates regional variations based on forage, habitat, and climate.

But yours is a question that has confounded biologists for generations, as they have attempted to define subtle differences between races of Odocoileus virginianus. Some are obvious: the rangy Dakota whitetail (subspecies dakotensis) compared to the diminutive Florida Key deer (subspecies clavium). But translocations have diluted the genetics of local populations. Virginia, for instance, was restocked with deer from 11 states, ranging from Florida to Arkansas.

Isolated populations tend to develop distinct genetic variations, which is why biologists maintain that the Blackbeard Island whitetail (nigribarbis) is distinct from the Hilton Head Island whitetail (hiltonensis), though only 30 miles separate the Georgia coastal islands.