The Roe Deer

Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus)

The Roe Deer is an ungulate that lives in Europe and Asia. It has short antlers (this term indicates the horns of deer) usually with three points on each side in adult individuals. The body is a color between red and brown, the muzzle towards gray; it is very fast and graceful and lives on plateaus and mountains.

This mammal is the smallest deer in Europe and has the typical structure of an animal suitable for jumping: the hind legs, longer and stronger than the front ones, allow it to move agilely in environments with dense bushes and rich undergrowth.

Distribution and habitat

It is widespread in most of continental Europe, in Great Britain and the Middle East, while it is absent from Ireland, Portugal, and Greece. In Italy, it is found in the Alps and the Apennines. Lately, there has been a slow recolonization of the woods of the Po Valley, in particular of the Ticino Park, but also of the recent reforestation carried out along the Po thanks to the contributions of the European Union.
Some specimens have been recently introduced within Nebrodi Park. These are specimens from Emilia-Romagna and concentrated in the area of Galati Mamertino, as part of a project to reintroduce the species.
The roe deer is widespread in open woods where the undergrowth is thick and that are interspersed with clearings and bushy areas, both in the plain (even where it is cultivated and even where agriculture is intensive as long as it finds bushes where to take refuge), both in the hills, both in the mountains, both in wetlands.


The roe deer is a small deer, with a reddish-brown coat in summer. The throat, the ventral parts and the anal region, called the anal mirror, are white. The tail is very short and does not emerge from the fur, although in the female there is a tuft of hair that covers the vulva. The male has small antlers with only three points; these fall off every year (from October to December) and grow back at the end of winter.

Roe deer in a flowery meadow

Scientific classification

Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Superordin: Ungulate
Ordin: Artiodactyla
Subordin: Ruminantia
Family: Cervidae
Subfamily: Capreolinae
Genus: Capreolus
Species: C. capreolus

Dentition and age determination

The jaw of the roe deer differs from that of the chamois by the greater protrusion in the front part. The dentition is complete after one year and includes 32 teeth. For the determination of the age in the roe deer, only two types of dentition can be distinguished, the milk and the definitive one.
The milk dentition includes 20 teeth. The lower half jaw has 3 incisors, a false canine (which has the function of a 4th incisor), and 3 premolars, while in the upper one, the incisors are absent. Characteristic is the third lower premolar with 3 ridges.
The definitive dentition, after the age of one year, includes 32 teeth. To the 3 premolars are added 3 molars and the third lower premolar has only 2 ridges.

The roe deer’s vocalization

Barking. Yes, the roe deer barks. The vocalization, scientifically called scrocchio, represents a deep and rhythmic sound, similar to the hoarse barking of a dog, and is emitted by both male and female roe deer in various circumstances. It is repeated several times in a row and probably falls within the alarm signals. It is generally used more by the male than by the female.

Morphological and physiological particularities

The roe deer, like other ungulates, is adapted for running, and its limbs are developed for this purpose. It can indeed leap barriers that are 2 meters high and even 7/8 of its body length.

The hoof print of an adult roe deer is distinguishable from that of a deer and a chamois by its shape and size. The dimensions of the print are approximately 4-5 cm x 3 cm (its prints are the smallest among all wild ungulates in Western Europe).

Roe deer footsteps

The hooves are rather pointed and slim. Similar to deer, the roe deer has highly developed hearing and sense of smell. The digestive system is typical of ruminants. However, the roe deer requires a more nutrient-rich diet than deer and, due to its smaller size, cannot accumulate large stores of fat under the skin.

Roe Deer Behavior

During the late spring to early summer period (May/June), females give birth to 1 or 2 fawns with a characteristic brown coat densely spotted.

The mating season occurs from mid-July to late August, and courtship involves a series of pursuits by the male towards the female.

Roe deer

The gestation period lasts about 9 and a half months; after fertilization, the egg implants in the mother’s uterus but remains dormant until December, when it resumes development. This characteristic is known as delayed implantation.

In contrast to the chamois, the fawn does not follow the mother but remains hidden in the grass, where it is reached by the mother for feeding several times throughout the day. This leads to high mortality; its predators include eagles and foxes that may attack the young. With the arrival of autumn, the males join the herds of females and often take a place at the bottom of the hierarchy. The young reach sexual maturity after the first year of life, around 14 months of age. They can live up to a maximum age of 12-18 years.

Use of time

The roe deer’s activity is closely synchronized with dawn and dusk, but unlike deer, its activity extends more in the morning and starts earlier in the evening. During these periods, it often emerges into open areas such as meadows or clearings. Daytime hours are largely spent in shelter, concealed in the woods. Nocturnal activity is often interrupted by resting phases.

Social behavior of Roe Deer

Roe deer exhibit territorial behavior, with individuals residing stably in well-defined areas, generally larger in males than in females. Their behavior varies between the spring-summer period and the autumn-winter period. In winter, they tend to form groups without distinction of gender, especially in agricultural areas, while in wooded areas, smaller groups (families) are often observed.

During spring-summer, the animals are more individualistic, and one typically observes groups consisting of a female with offspring or, during the mating season, a male with a female.

Interspecific Relationships

Like other ungulates, the roe deer also has few natural enemies. In the Dolomites, we can mention the golden eagle and the fox, which can sometimes attack the young. “The recent arrival of the wolf in the Dolomites, however, represents a new danger for the roe deer.” The presence of the lynx should not be forgotten. Natural factors are then added to those related to humans, such as hunting activity or the presence of stray dogs.

Curio and Legends

The roe deer represents a symbol of the journey of the soul after death.