Can Ticks Affect Antler Development?

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Recently someone asked me if ticks had been known to affect antler development, and then I captured the pair of photos above on my trail-camera. That prompted me to give this question more thought.

The relative number of parasites on a deer is referred to as a “burden” by scientists. In at least one scientific study, high “burdens” of ticks were associated with fawn mortality, so no doubt there is a relationship between parasite burdens and deer health. While we don’t know for sure if ticks can directly affect antler development, a high tick burden could result from or cause poor health, which certainly affects antler development.

Look closely at the buck on the right and the number of engorged ticks attached to the antlers. Also, see the cluster of ticks in the buck’s neck/shoulder region. Obviously this buck is not completely healthy, and I think there is some kind of issue with his right front leg/foot, which could be the cause. Now study the larger buck on the left, photographed at this same location at around the same time. He has perfectly clean antlers – no ticks visible. When two animals from the same habitat exhibit different external parasite burdens, you can bet that one is healthy and the other is not.

Parasite burdens in free-roaming deer are rarely a concern for deer managers, as long as most of the deer you see or photograph appear healthy – like the buck on the left.

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About Joe Hamilton

Joe Hamilton is a wildlife biologist and the founder of the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA). During his nearly 20 years with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Joe helped implement QDM practices on more than 2 million acres. In 2000, he was awarded the Deer Management Career Achievement Award from The Wildlife Society. In 2011, he was named Conservationist of the Year by Budweiser Outdoors. He currently serves as Director of Development for QDMA.