The Water Deer: Defining a New Species

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It can be tough to get the information you need about animals. If you’ve ever wanted to know all there is to know about the Water Deer, then this guide is for you.

What is The Water Deer?

The water deer, also known as the Korean water deer or vampire deer, is a small deer species native to East Asia. It is known for its unique appearance and distinctive fangs. Water deer are primarily found in China and Korea, inhabiting wetland areas and river valleys.

Unlike most other deer species, water deer do not have antlers. Instead, males have long canine teeth, or tusks, which they use for territorial displays and occasionally in combat. Water deer are herbivorous and feed on a variety of vegetation. They are solitary animals and are primarily active during twilight hours.

What is The Water Deer Size?

The water deer is a relatively small deer species. On average, adult males stand about 50-60 cm (20-24 inches) tall at the shoulder and measure around 90-110 cm (35-43 inches) in length. They typically weigh between 11 and 18 kg (24-40 lbs). Adult females are slightly smaller, with an average height of 45-55 cm (18-22 inches) and a length of 85-95 cm (33-37 inches). Females weigh around 8-15 kg (18-33 lbs). Compared to many other deer species, water deer have a compact and stocky build, making them well-adapted to their wetland habitats.

Geographic Range

Geographic Range

The water deer (Hydropotes inermis) is native to East Asia and has a relatively limited geographic range. It is primarily found in China and Korea. In China, water deer populations are distributed across various provinces, including Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, Hebei, Shandong, Henan, Hubei, Anhui, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Hunan, Guangdong, and Guangxi. In Korea, they inhabit both North Korea and South Korea.

Outside of its native range, there have been some introductions of water deer in other countries for conservation and hunting purposes. These introductions include locations such as England and France, where small populations of water deer can now be found. However, the species’ primary range remains in East Asia.


Water deer are well adapted to wetland habitats and are typically found in areas with dense vegetation near water sources. They inhabit a variety of environments including marshes, swamps, reed beds, river valleys, and floodplains. They are particularly associated with areas of tall grasses, sedges, and shrubs that provide cover and food.

Water deer are known to be skilled swimmers and are often found in proximity to water bodies such as rivers, lakes, ponds, and streams. These habitats offer them a combination of suitable vegetation for browsing and cover, as well as a means of escape from predators.

The dense vegetation in their preferred habitats provides them with camouflage and protection, allowing them to hide and blend in effectively. These areas also offer abundant plant resources that water deer rely on for sustenance.

While they are adapted to wetland environments, water deer can also be found in nearby woodland areas or agricultural fields that are near water sources. However, their reliance on wetland habitats remains a key aspect of their ecological niche.

Physical Description

The water deer has several distinct physical characteristics that set it apart from other deer species:

  1. Size and Build: Water deer are relatively small deer, with males standing about 50-60 cm (20-24 inches) tall at the shoulder and females slightly smaller. They have a compact and stocky build, well-suited for their wetland habitats.

  2. Coat: Their coat is thick and coarse, typically grayish-brown or reddish-brown. In winter, their fur may become grayer and longer for better insulation.

  3. Antlers: Unlike most other deer species, water deer lack antlers. Instead, adult males have long canine teeth, or tusks, which can grow up to 8 cm (3 inches) in length. These tusks are used for territorial displays and can be extended during aggressive encounters.

  4. Facial Features: Water deer have distinctive face with large eyes and ears. Their muzzles are pointed and somewhat elongated. One of their notable features is the presence of prominent suborbital glands, which are scent glands located below the eyes.

  5. Tail: Water deer have a short tail, typically around 5-10 cm (2-4 inches) in length.

  6. Fangs: As mentioned earlier, male water deer possess elongated canine teeth or tusks. These tusks are particularly pronounced in mature males and give the species its alternative name, “vampire deer.”

Overall, the water deer’s physical characteristics reflect its adaptation to a unique ecological niche and distinguish it from other deer species.

Reproduction -Breeding

Water deer have a distinct breeding pattern and reproductive behavior. Here are some key aspects of their reproduction:

  1. Breeding Season: The breeding season for water deer typically occurs from November to January. During this time, males become more territorial and engage in displays to attract females.

  2. Territorial Displays: Male water deer use their tusks to establish and defend their territories. They mark their territories with scent from their suborbital glands and engage in vocalizations and posturing to intimidate rival males.

  3. Courtship and Mating: Once a male successfully establishes a territory, he will attract females through courtship displays. These displays involve vocalizations, sniffing, and physical interactions. Mating occurs within the male’s territory.

  4. Gestation and Birth: The gestation period for water deer is around 200 days or about 6.5 months. Female water deer give birth to one or two fawns per pregnancy, usually in June or July. The fawns are precocial, meaning they are relatively well-developed and capable of moving shortly after birth.

  5. Maternal Care: Female water deer provide care and protection to their fawns. They hide the fawns in dense vegetation and visit them periodically to nurse and groom them. The fawns gradually start foraging on vegetation as they grow.

  6. Sexual Maturity: Water deer reach sexual maturity at different ages depending on their sex. Males typically mature around 8-12 months of age, while females reach maturity around 7-12 months.

It’s important to note that water deer exhibit solitary behavior outside of the breeding season, with males and females generally leading independent lives.

How long does The Water Deer live?

The average lifespan of water deer in the wild is around 10-12 years. However, some individuals have been known to live up to 15 years or more in captivity with proper care and management.

Various factors can influence the lifespan of water deer, including habitat quality, predation pressure, disease prevalence, and access to food and water resources. In the wild, water deer face threats such as habitat loss, hunting, and predation, which can impact their overall longevity. Additionally, factors like the availability of suitable vegetation and water sources can also affect their survival and lifespan.

In captivity, where these factors are controlled, water deer can have a longer lifespan compared to their wild counterparts. Nevertheless, it’s important to ensure that water deer, like any captive species, receive proper care, diet, and living conditions to maintain their health and well-being.

Communication and Perception

Water deer communicate and perceive their environment through various means. Here are some aspects of their communication and perception:

  1. Vocalizations: Water deer produce a range of vocalizations to communicate with others. These include barks, hisses, and alarm calls. Males may vocalize during territorial displays and courtship.

  2. Scent Marking: Water deer possess scent glands located below their eyes, known as suborbital glands. They use these glands to mark their territories with scent, which serves as a form of communication with other individuals, particularly rival males.

  3. Visual Signals: Water deer use visual signals to communicate their intentions and establish dominance. Males may engage in posturing, such as lifting their heads and displaying their tusks, to assert their dominance or intimidate rivals.

  4. Tactile Communication: Water deer can use physical contact to communicate with each other. This may include gentle nudges, grooming, or physical interactions during courtship.

  5. Perceptual Abilities: Water deer have acute senses of sight and hearing, which help them perceive their environment and detect potential threats. Their large ears aid in detecting sounds, while their eyes provide them with good vision, especially in low-light conditions.

  6. Olfactory Communication: Like many other mammals, water deer rely on their sense of smell for communication and perception. They can detect and interpret various scents in their environment, including those left by conspecifics or potential mates.

Overall, water deer utilize a combination of vocalizations, visual displays, scent marking, tactile communication, and their sensory abilities to communicate with conspecifics, establish territories, and navigate their surroundings.

What does The Water Deer eat?

Water deer are herbivorous and primarily feed on a variety of vegetation. Their diet consists mainly of grasses, sedges, aquatic plants, reeds, and shrubs. They are well adapted to their wetland habitats and have specialized feeding habits to exploit the available plant resources.

Some of the specific plant species commonly consumed by water deer include various types of grass such as common reed (Phragmites australis), Japanese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis), and tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea). They also feed on sedges like Carex spp. and aquatic plants like water lilies (Nymphaea spp.) and pondweeds (Potamogeton spp.).

During the summer months when vegetation is abundant, water deer primarily graze on grasses and other herbaceous plants. In the winter, when vegetation is less available, they may resort to browsing shrubs and woody plants for sustenance.

Water deer are known to be selective feeders, choosing specific plant parts rich in nutrients. They prefer tender shoots, leaves, and young stems. Their feeding behavior often involves plucking plant material with their mouths or tearing it off with their front teeth.

The diet of water deer can vary slightly depending on the specific habitat and season, but overall, they are adapted to consume a variety of wetland vegetation as their primary food source.

Anti-predator Adaptations

Water Deer
Anti-predator Adaptations

Water deer have developed several anti-predator adaptations to increase their chances of survival. Here are some notable adaptations:

  1. Camouflage: The coat of water deer provides effective camouflage in their natural habitat. The grayish-brown or reddish-brown coloration blends well with the surrounding vegetation, making it difficult for predators to spot them.

  2. Alertness and Agility: Water deer possess keen senses and are alert to potential threats. They have good vision and hearing, enabling them to detect predators in their vicinity. When alerted, they can quickly flee or seek cover in dense vegetation.

  3. Swimming Ability: Water deer are adept swimmers and can take to the water to escape from predators. They can move swiftly and stealthily through aquatic environments, utilizing their strong legs and body to navigate and elude pursuers.

  4. Scent-marking and Territorial Defense: Males use scent-marking as a means of communication and territorial defense. By marking their territories with scent from their suborbital glands, they deter potential predators and rival males.

  5. Aggression and Tusk Display: Male water deer possess long canine teeth, or tusks, which they can extend and display during territorial disputes or when threatened. The tusks serve as a deterrent and can be used in combat if necessary.

  6. Solitary Behavior: Water deer are primarily solitary animals, which can reduce the risk of attracting predators through group presence. By avoiding large social groups, they minimize the likelihood of detection and increase their chances of survival.

These adaptations help water deer evade predators and increase their chances of survival in their wetland habitats. However, they still face threats from natural predators such as wolves, lynx, and large birds of prey. Human activities, such as habitat loss and hunting, also pose significant risks to their populations.

Ecosystem Roles

Water deer play several roles within their ecosystems. Here are some of their ecosystem contributions:

  1. Herbivory and Plant Control: Water deer are herbivores that graze on grasses, sedges, aquatic plants, and shrubs. By feeding on vegetation, they contribute to controlling plant growth and shaping plant communities in their habitats. Their selective browsing behavior can influence the composition and structure of vegetation in wetland ecosystems.

  2. Seed Dispersal: Water deer can serve as seed dispersers by consuming fruits and vegetation containing seeds. As they move through their habitats and excrete seeds in different locations, they aid in the dispersal of plant species. This helps plants colonize new areas, promote genetic diversity, and contribute to the overall biodiversity of the ecosystem.

  3. Prey Species: Water deer serve as a prey species for various predators, including large mammals, such as wolves and lynx, as well as birds of prey. They provide a source of food and energy for predators, contributing to the balance of predator-prey dynamics in their ecosystems.

  4. Indicator Species: Water deer populations can serve as indicators of the overall health and ecological conditions of wetland habitats. Their presence and abundance can reflect the availability of suitable vegetation, water quality, and overall ecosystem functioning. Monitoring water deer populations can provide insights into the state of their habitats and potential environmental changes.

  5. Ecotourism and Recreation: Water deer can attract ecotourism and recreational activities, benefiting local economies and raising awareness about the importance of wetland conservation. Observing and learning about water deer can promote conservation efforts and highlight the significance of protecting their habitats and the broader ecosystems they inhabit.

Overall, water deer play a role in the functioning and dynamics of wetland ecosystems through their feeding habits, interactions with plant communities, contribution to the food web, and ecological significance as indicators of habitat health.

Conservation Status

The conservation status of water deer is assessed as “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This classification indicates that the species is not currently facing a significant risk of extinction at the global level. However, local populations may be affected by specific threats and habitat degradation.

Water deer populations have declined in certain regions due to habitat loss, fragmentation, and hunting pressures. Wetland habitat destruction, primarily for agricultural expansion and urban development, has resulted in the loss of suitable habitats for water deer.

In some areas, water deer are also hunted for their meat and tusks. However, hunting regulations and protected areas have been implemented to manage hunting activities and ensure sustainable populations.

Conservation efforts focus on preserving and restoring wetland habitats, implementing wildlife management practices, and raising awareness about the ecological importance of water deer and wetland ecosystems.

It’s important to continue monitoring water deer populations and their habitats to ensure their long-term conservation and sustainable management, especially considering the potential threats associated with habitat degradation and human activities.


Estimating the exact population size of water deer is challenging due to their elusive nature and the wide geographic range they inhabit. However, available data suggest that water deer populations are relatively stable overall.

In China, which is the primary range of water deer, the population is considered healthy. According to the China Red List of Threatened Species, the population of water deer is stable, and they are distributed across various provinces in the country.

In South Korea, the water deer population has also been relatively stable. Efforts have been made to protect their habitats and manage hunting activities to maintain sustainable populations.

Outside of their native range, small introduced populations of water deer exist in countries like England and France. These introduced populations are typically managed and monitored to prevent negative impacts on local ecosystems and maintain population balance.

Due to the lack of comprehensive population surveys and the limited focus on water deer in conservation assessments, it is challenging to provide precise population numbers. However, the available evidence suggests that water deer populations are generally stable and not considered at immediate risk of significant decline.

How fast can The Water Deer run?

Water deer are known for their agility and speed when it comes to evading predators. They are capable of running at relatively fast speeds. While there is variation among individuals, it is estimated that water deer can reach running speeds of up to 30-35 miles per hour (48-56 kilometers per hour) in short bursts.

Their nimble build and strong legs allow them to swiftly navigate through their wetland habitats and escape from potential threats. Their ability to run at high speeds aids in their survival by increasing their chances of outrunning predators and reaching areas of dense vegetation or water for protection.

Referans: Distribution update of water deer (Hydropotes inermis) and prediction of their potential distribution in Northeast China


Why are they called water deer?

The name, water deer, comes from the habitat where they live and the way that they drink. They are known to have a very large gut to store water, which is why they look like deer when drinking.

Why do water deer have fangs?

Water deer with fangs have been known to use their canines on each other during fights to establish dominance and protect themselves from harm in watery areas where they live.

Do water deer eat meat?

Water deer are herbivores and do not eat meat.

Where do the Water Deer sleep?

Water Deer usually live in moist places with wet soil that is close to water.

What plants do the Water Deer avoid?

Plants that are avoided by the Water Deer are anything with a shiny surface or leaves. This includes flowers, ferns, mosses, algae, and more. Some plants are even designed to call attention to themselves and make them stand out from the rest of the forest floor – these include cattails and some sedges.

Can the Water Deer swim?

The Water Deer can swim and its webbed feet help to propel it through the water quickly.

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