Capreolus capreoluswestern roe deer

Geographic Range

The roe deer is found throughout Europe and Asia Minor, except in the islands of Corsica and Sardinia, Lebanon, Isreal, Ireland and the eastern margin of eastern Europe. Their distribution was reduced and their range fragmented on account of hunting and other types of human interference between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (Danilkin, 1996; Sempere et al., 1996; MSW Scientific Names)


Roe deer prefer forest steppe and small insular forests among croplands. They also like high-grass meadows with some shrubs. They prefer burns and cutovers in forestlands and croplands that serve the purpose of revegetation. Human modifications, i.e. felling of trees and formation of croplands and meadows, as well as intensive agricultural methods, have historically been beneficial in regions with little snow. (Sempere et al., 1996)

Physical Description

Capreolus capreolus is classified as a telemetacarpalian. It is a small deer with a long neck minus a mane, relatively large ears (12-14 cm), a rudimentary tail (2-3 cm) and no preorbital glands. In the winter the coloration ranges from grayish-brown to dark brown. A large white caudal patch is present. In summer, they are reddish to red-brown. Males develop a thickened skin on their head, neck and anterior portion of the trunk. The caudal patch mentioned previously is either absent or less pronounced than in the winter. The top of the head is gray or brown and the metatarsal glands are brown or dark brown. Roe deer molt twice a year in spring and in autumn. The kids of this species are spotted.

Antlers are present and are shed annually in October and November. They regrow immediately afterwards. Males are slightly larger than females and have tuberculate, three tined antlers. The basal rosettes are well-defined.

Roe deer's hooves are narrow and short with lateral digits well-developed.

An analysis of 11 different populations gave a mean total length of 107-125.7 cm, shoulder height of 66-83.3 cm, body mass of 22.6-30 kg, maximum skull length of 191-212.2 mm and maximum skull width of 84.3-91.5 mm. The skull is small but somewhat elongated. Lacrimal bones are shorter than the orbital cavity diameter. The preorbital glands are rudimentary and the tympanic bullae are small. Anterior ends of the nasal bones are forked and touch admaxillary bones. Orbits are medium sized. The maxillary bone is comparatively high and is equal in length to the molar row. The dental formula is 0/3 0/1 3/3 3/3=32. (Danilkin, 1996; Prior, 1968; Sempere, et al., 27 December, 1996)

  • Range mass
    22 to 30 kg
    48.46 to 66.08 lb
  • Range length
    107 to 126 cm
    42.13 to 49.61 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    46.347 W


Males are sexually mature by the end of their first year. However, they are not likely to begin breeding until their third year of life. They are physiologically capable of reproduction from March to October, but the rutting season is largely restricted from June to August. Only in a few individuals does it occur earlier or later.

Breeding activity in females begins when they are 14 months old. They are monestrous, and the duration of estrus is typically 36 hours.

Roe deer are the only ungulate that has a latent period of pregnancy, and consequently their reproductive cycle differs from those of even closely related species. Implantation of the embryo usually occurs in January. The fertilized ovum at morula stage penetrates into the uterus where it divides. This is followed by a 4-5 month period with minimal miotic activity. Delayed implantation is not a function of photoperiod, as in weasels. It is controlled by the development of the blastocyst. The gestation period is between 264 and 318 days. Fawns are born between April and July. There are usually two fawns, possibly one or three. They weigh 1-1.7 kg, have their vision and are furred. They are practically helpless during the first few days of life and are easy victims to predators. The female nurses the fawns during the early months of life. During the first month, they are nursed five to nine times a day, two to four times in the second month and one to two in the months afterward. Lactation declines in August and stops completely in early autumn, but sometimes occurs through December. Fawns feed completely on vegetation at weaning. Their growth is rapid, and they double their birth mass at two weeks of age. By autumn 60-70% of the body mass of adult individuals has been attained. (Danilkin, 1996; Sempere et al., 1996)

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    10 months
  • Average gestation period
    153 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    413 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    655 days



Roe deer are either solitary or live in family groups, i.e. the female with her offspring, in the summer months. However, in the winter, almost all live in family groups. The basis for population social organization is the family group. The composition of large groups changes; it may have 40-90 members in open biotopes or have only ten-15 members in forest biotopes. The organization of the population depends on the abundance and distribution of food resources and cover. In the summer, deer are dispersed throughout the territory, and in winter they concentrate in their foraging areas. The right to hold territory by male deer results in fights every year, usually between an adult male in one territory and a young male that wants the neighboring territory.

The life span of an individual roe deer is approximately ten years, however, some may reach 15-17 years. They are mainly preyed upon by wolf (Canis lupis), lynx (Lynx lynx) and fox (Vulpes vulpes). Fox typically only prey on fawns. (Sempere et al., 1996)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Roe deer consume apporximately 1,000 plant species in their range. Of these species, the percentage breakdown of plant type is as follows: 25% woody plants, 54% herbaceous dicotyledons and 16% monocotyledons. They may eat the needles of coniferous trees, but this usually only happens in winter when all other food sources are scarce. They are selective feeders, with a preference for energy-rich foods that are soft and contain large amounts of water. Due to their small stomach size and rapid digestion process, they require frequent food intake. They normally have between five and eleven separate feeding periods in a day. They may feed at hour intervals during periods of optimal food availability.

Plant types and individual species vary with the seasons and habit. However, one study has shown that variation in diet composition is more closely correlated with habitat than season. Forage reserves decline in the winter and their diet becomes less diverse. Consequently, metabolic rate and food consumption decrease. In the spring, metabolic rate, energy requirements and the process of digestion all increase. They prefer concentrated foods (seeds and fruits) in autumn. (Cornelius et al., 1999; Danilkin, 1996; Sempere et al., 1996)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The roe deer is important as a game animal. The combination of this fact along with their widespread distribution and high levels of abundance make them a popular subject of scientific study. (Danilkin, 1996)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Roe deer are the most abundant wild ungulate species in Europe, and their populations in some countries are excessive. This can lead to negative interactions with humans, such as motor vehicle accidents. Game management is often necessary. (Sempere et al., 1996)

Conservation Status

Attempts at conservation and more rational game management of the roe deer resulted in an increase in numbers, with their range being restored as well as extended. (Danilkin, 1996)

Other Comments

The genus Capreolus is in need of taxonomic revision. The European roe deer is currently considered a monotypic species or one with several subspecies. However, evidence has been presented that shows the subspecies are different enough to be considered separate species. (Danilkin, 1996; Sempere et al., 1996)


Kristi Jacques (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.


1993. "MSW Scientific Names" (On-line). Accessed October 14, 1999 at

Cornelius, J., J. Casaer, H. Martin. June, 1999. Impact of season, habitat and research techniques on diet composition of roe deer (Capreolus capreolus): A review. Journal of Zoology, 248(2): 195-207.

Danilkin, A. 1996. Behavioural Ecology of Siberian and European Roe Deer. London: Chapman & Hall.

Prior, R. 1968. The Roe Deer of Cranborne Chase. London: Oxford University Press.

Sempere, A., V. Sokolov, A. Danilkin. 27 December, 1996. Capreolus capreolus. Pp. 1-7 in Mammalian Species. American Society of Mammalogists.