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The white tailed deer is the official state animal of Illinois, one of the United States’ central states. It was selected to be the state animal of Illinois after a vote by school children in 1980. Two years later, the State General Assembly officially made the white tailed deer the state animal of Illinois.
These animals are named after the prominent white patch on the underside of the tail. When a white tailed deer flees, this patch virtually flashes, providing a strong visual warning to the rest of the herd. The coat of this species is tawny in the summer months and grayish-brown colored in the winter. Fur along the underside of the belly remains white all year long.
The male white tailed deer, called a buck, grows and sheds a set of antlers every year. Early in the spring, the antlers are enveloped in a vascularised, soft tissue called velvet that feeds the growing antlers. Later in the season, the velvet peels off or is scraped off to reveal bone-like antlers. The antlers are used to assert dominance over other bucks and claim does for breeding. After breeding season the antlers fall off.
Late fall and early winter is the mating season for white tailed deer. Gestation is about six months, and the baby deer, called a fawn, is born in the spring. A female white tailed deer, called a doe, can bear one to three fawns each year. Born reddish brown with spots, fawns are often able to stand and walk soon after birth. Male fawns stay with their mothers for one year and female fawns often remaining with their mother for two years, until they are mated.
Wolves and cougars used to be the main predators of adult white tailed deer, and coyotes and bear are the primary predators of fawns, but now humans are the primary predators. This change is the result of the decrease in the populations of these predatory animals. Most states issue hunting permits based on estimates of herd sizes in an effort to control the growth of the white tailed deer population.
The plant-eating white tailed deer have a wide-ranging diet, and consume grasses, mushrooms, the leaves of trees and bushes, and cacti. Adaptable feeding, reduced predation, and the deforestation of the United States has allowed the white tailed deer to spread to practically all parts of the United States. These animals are frequently sighted on roadsides, backyards, and gardens, probably accounting for their popularity among the school children of Illinois and their designation of it as the state animal of Illinois. It is also the state animal of ten other states.