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A White-tailed deer standing in a field
A Stately Buck (Image credit: Louis/Pexels)

Mating and the Deer Rut. And of Note – the Rut is Not Just a Deer Thing

Now, we are not talking about being in an emotional or operational rut.   Or the rut caused from, for example, tires rolling or a plow grinding through dirt.

No, we refer to “the rut” that describes the mating season of deer.

But not just deer — but other mammals also.   Actually, the term is used primarily to describe the mating season of mid to large-size mammals.

There is a “rut” for elephants and goats and giraffes and many other species.

And, just think — and here we are talking about another creature well known in ohDEER territory — there is a skunk rut … which we will get back to further along in this post.

By the way, it is a curious term for the mating season — the rut.  Why the rut?

Well, you see, the “rut” — as in mating “rut” — is derived from the Latin rugire, which means “to roar.”  Therefore, appropriate is the word, when you consider that mating is often a roaring condition.

In the territory that  ohDEER services — that is an area that takes in parts of southern New England and the Mid-Atlantic — the annual schedule of the whitetail deer rut is, roughly, from late September through the late November, with some rutting going on in early December.   As the days get shorter, biological changes occur in deer that encourage and inspire mating.

Weather affects that time frame, with warm weather delaying, and cold weather hurrying up, the rut.

But is the length of days and nights that are the primary activator of the change.

A keystone to this transition is the pineal gland, found in the brain and behind the eyeball.  The pineal gland is a sort of light detector and processor, and a producer of the hormone melatonin which regulates the sleep-wake cycle.  Melatonin also has an effect on the production of other hormones.  As autumn progresses, and the length of days decrease, the pineal gland boosts the amount of melatonin it generates which then instructs the body to alter the levels of a suite of hormones.

Among those hormones is testosterone, present in all vertebrates, and which during the rut increases in huge measure in male deer (bucks) and is the chief driver of their mating impulse.  Testosterone excites and inspires bucks to  look for females (does).  It also makes bucks more aggressive, with enhanced aggression useful when battling and jousting with rivals for access to a female..  During the rut, another change in bucks that help in the mating game is a bodily function called olfaction, which is the secretion of scents that attract and entice females.

Fewer hours of sunlight and falling temps also activate change in does.  Their ovaries produce estrogen and progesterone, which work in tandem, to bring about estrous (heat), a condition in which they are fertile and receptive to males.  But the heat window is small.  In November, female deer are in estrous for a 24-hour period — and if a doe does not successfully mate at that time, they will, 28 days later, go into another 24-hour stage of heat.

With male deer looking for love for a couple months straight, and females only willing to mate for, at most, a couple days over that time stretch, it creates an episode in which does are mostly running from eager bucks during the rut.   But when the females are in heat, they will stay in place for a buck who meets their fancy.

Bucks have to be ready.  They have to act fast.

And we share here a note of caution — when the rut is on, deer, with their hormones all aflutter, and sprinting crazily,  are more inclined to run onto roads and into auto traffic than during other times of the year; so please beware.

Mating in mid to late fall is all part of a cosmic plan for survival; for a deer is pregnant for about 200 days, which results in deer birth taking place in the later part of the spring — with temps warming and summer ahead and the land clear of snow, which is an environment far more hospitable to survival of a fragile fawn than is fall and winter.

It is all about the cycle of life.

It is all about the continuation of the species.

As For Those Skunks

Skunks are not now in the rut — but there is a skunk rut.

Skunks mate in February and March.  And as is the case with deer, length of days and weather temps affect mating behavior.   Starting in February, and as the sunups get earlier and the sunsets get later, and temps rise, the skunk reproductive behavior  gets moving.  Skunk ruts end in March.

In that the skunk gestation period is 60 t0 75 days, baby skunks — they are called “kittens” — usually come into the world in May and June,  Skunk litter size varies from one to 15 kittens.

During the rut, skunk males, like deer males, are excitable, energized, and inclined to fight with other males in order to win an opportunity to mate.

And when it is rut time, a method that a female skunk  will use to discourage a suitor in whom she is not interested is to … yep … spray the eager male — not with a full dose of the toxic and foul sulphur-heavy substance that skunk adrenal glands manufacture and release — but a small dose; which is enough to inspire a male skunk to move along.

Some of that skunk scent you encounter in February and March resulted from a female skunk giving a male the kiss off.

That’s right. And so, It seems, that as skunks go, love can be figuratively — but not literally — in the air.