March 11 is Key Deer Awareness Day. Key deer are small deer who live on several islands in the Florida Keys. While there is some disagreement as to whether key deer are just very small white-tailed deer or a subspecies of white-tailed deer, one this is for sure: these little deer are adorable. In honor of these cute critters and Key Deer Awareness Day, here are three fun facts about key deer!
1. Key Deer Are Much Smaller Than Normal White-Tailed Deer
Key deer are much smaller than your average white-tailed deer. At less than two and a half feet tall and under 75 pounds, a typical key deer is half the size of a normal white-tailed deer. A key deer fawn only weighs two to four pounds. Key deer fawns are so small, their hooves leave only fingerprint-sized prints in the ground.
2. Key Deer Nearly Went Extinct
From the end of the 1500s when Spanish explorers first set foot in the Keys until the 1930s, people hunted key deer. Combined with poaching and habitat destruction, key deer nearly went extinct in the 1950s. At their lowest number, it is believed only 25-50 key deer existed. Today, thanks to protections for the deer, there are anywhere from 700 to 1,000 key deer in the Keys. However, they are still in danger of going extinct. Every year, vehicles hit and kill dozens of the deer. In 2016, a screw worm infestation killed 135 deer. While the key deer have recovered from their lowest numbers, they remain in a precarious situation.
3. If You Want to See Key Deer, Head to Big Pine Key or No Name Key
When Spanish explorers first arrived in the Florida Keys, they found key deer on most of the Middle Keys and all the way to Key West. In this era before bridges connected the Keys, the deer swam between the islands. Although most members of the deer family can swim, key deer seem to be the best swimmers of the group. Today, the key deer occupy a smaller range of the Keys. If you are hoping to see one, your best bet is to head to Big Pine Key, home of the National Key Deer Wildlife Refuge, or No Name Key.
If you are interested in learning more about key deer or the Florida Keys, pick up a copy of 101 Travel Bits: The Florida Keys and the Overseas Highway - newly updated with information on Hurricane Irma!