Pennsylvania State Animal

White-tailed Deer

State Symbol: Pennsylvania State Animal: White-tailed Deer

(Odocoileus virginianus)

Adopted on October 2, 1959

Indians and settlers depended on the Whitetail Deer to feed, clothe and shelter them year round. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed the nation's first game laws in 1721 to protect these valuable animals, some of whom grew to 350 pounds. Whitetail Deer continue to flourish today in Pennsylvania's forests. The whitetail deer, (Odocoileus virginianus,) is the official state animal, as enacted by the General Assembly on October 2, 1959.

The white-tailed deer is today Pennsylvania's most striking game animal. At the same time, it is also the Commonwealth's most complicated game problem.

States that have named the White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) as their official state mammal and/or animal:

Arkansas | Illinois | Michigan

Mississippi | Nebraska  |  New Hampshire

Ohio | Oklahoma | Pennsylvania | South Carolina | Wisconsin

Pennsylvania State Animal: White-tailed Deer

History of the White-tailed Deer in Pennsylvania

The Early Days

State Symbol: Pennsylvania State Animal: White-tailed Deer

Prior to European settlement, deer provided a staple for Native Americans who inhabited present-day Pennsylvania. Hunting by native peoples and predation by large carnivores kept deer populations in balance with what the habitat could support.

European settlement brought removal of large carnivores, land clearing for agriculture, and market and subsistence hunting that nearly extirpated deer from the state. The conservation efforts of the early 1900s following the complete removal of our forests gave birth to the acquisition of the state forest system. With minimal deer browsing pressure, the land regenerated vigorously, turning into rapidly growing trees and shrubs. At the same time, deer were being reintroduced across the state amid this sea of highly nutritious forage, and their populations expanded exponentially.

An Expanding Population

Early in the 20th century deer management was designed to protect does (female deer) and maximize population growth. By the 1930s, the deer herd had grown to the point of causing severe habitat damage across large portions of the northern range in Pennsylvania. Deer populations in many of these forests peaked in the 1970s and remained out of balance with forest habitat conditions for many years after. 

Impacts of Too Many Deer

By the end of the 1900s and the early 2000s, as a result of over-abundant deer populations, the forest understory across vast areas of the state had been reduced to a diminished group of species not preferred by deer, such as beech, striped maple, hay-scented fern, mountain laurel, and huckleberry. Fewer deer are able to survive in this denuded habitat condition.

Tree species are also limited by deer. Recent federal data shows that only about a half of forest plots studied in northern Pennsylvania have enough new growth to replace the existing forest. Studies also show that overabundant deer populations reduce the populations of other wildlife species - both game and non-game- by limiting or eliminating their desired habitat.

Characteristics of the White-tailed Deer

Head and body length is 150 to 200 cm, tail length is 10 to 28 cm, and height at the shoulders is between 80 and 100 cm.

White-tailed Deer, (Odocoileus virginianus,) dorsal coloration differs in shading locally, seasonally, and among subspecies; however in general it is grayer in the winter and redder in the summer. White fur is located in a band behind the nose, in circles around the eyes, inside the ears, over the chin and throat, on the upper insides of the legs and beneath the tail. Whitetail deer have scent glands between the two parts of the hoof on all four feet, metatarsal glands on the outside of each hind leg, and a larger tarsal gland on the inside of each hind leg at the hock. Scent from these glands is used for intra-species communication and secretions become especially strong during the rutting season. Males possess antlers which are shed from January to March and grow out again in April or May, losing their velvet in August or September. At birth, fawns are spotted with white in coloration and weight between 1.5 and 2.5 kg. Their coats become grayish lose their spots by their first winter. Whitetail deer have good eyesight and acute hearing, but depend mainly on their sense of smell to detect danger.

Common Names

white-tailed deer; whitetail deer; Columbian white-tailed deer; Key deer; Coues deer; Texas white-tailed deer; sandhill deer; common deer; jumping deer; flag-tailed deer; bannertail; long-tailed deer; Virginia white-tailed deer; Virginia deer

Food Habits

Whitetail deer feed on a variety of vegetation, depending on what is available in their habitat. In eastern forests, buds and twigs of maple, sassafras, poplar, aspen and birch (to name a few) are consumed, as well as many shrubs. In desert areas, plants such as huajillo brush, yucca, prickly pear cactus, comal, ratama and various tough shrubs may be the main components of a whitetail's diet. Conifers are often utilized in winter when other foods are scarce. Whitetail deer are crepuscular, feeding mainly from before dawn until several hours after, and again from late afternoon until dusk.


Most whitetail deer (particularly males) mate in their second year, although some females occasionally mate as young as seven months. Bucks are polygamous although they may form an attachment and stay with a single doe for several days or even weeks until she reaches oestrus. Does are seasonally polyoestrous and usually come into heat in November for a short twenty-four hour period. If a doe is not mated, a second oestrus occurs approximately 28 days later. Mating occurs from October to December and gestation is approximately 6 and a half months. In her first year of breeding, a female generally has one fawn, but 2 per litter (occasionally 3 or 4) are born in subsequent years. Fawns are able to walk at birth and nibble on vegetation only a few days later. They are weaned at approximately six weeks. Life span in the wild is 10 years, but whitetail deer have lived up to 20 years in captivity.


Whitetail deer are the most nervous and shy of our deer. They wave their tails characteristically from side to side when they are startled and fleeing. They are extremely agile and may bound at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour through tangled terrain in a forest. Whitetail deer are also good swimmers and often enter large streams and lakes to escape predators or insects or to visit islands. Their home ranges are generally small, often a square kilometer or less. Whitetail deer do not migrate to a winter range but yard up in their own territories during heavy snow. They are notorious for continually using the same pathways when foraging, but will not bed down during the day in areas that they have used previously.

Whitetail deer are generally considered solitary, especially in summer. The basic social unit is a female and her fawns, although does have been observed to graze together in herds of up to hundreds of individuals. Females generally follow their mothers for about two years, but males leave the group within the first year. Bucks may form transient groups of 2-4 in the summer, but these disband prior to the mating season. Males begin rutting as early as September, and at this point become entirely preoccupied with obtaining mating. They do not guard harems (as with elk) but rather fight each other individually, clashing antlers to gain access to a particular female.

Whitetail does are painstakingly careful to keep their offspring hidden from predators. When foraging, females leave their offspring in dense vegetation for about four hours at a time. While waiting for the female to return, fawns lay flat on the ground with their necks outstretched, well camouflaged against the forest floor. Fawns withhold their feces and urine until the mother arrives, at which point she ingests whatever the fawn voids to deny predators any sign of the fawn.

Whitetail deer are not especially vocal, although young fawns bleat on occasion. Injured deer utter a startlingly loud "blatt" or bawl. Whistles or snorts of disturbed whitetails are the most commonly heard sounds.


Whitetail deer are able to survive in a variety of terrestrial habitats, from the big woods of northern Maine to the deep saw grass and hammock swamps of Florida. They also inhabit farmlands, brushy areas and such desolate areas of the west such as the cactus and thorn-brush deserts of southern Texas and Mexico. Ideal whitetail deer habitat would contain dense thickets (in which to hide and move about) and edges (which furnish food).

There are 16 subspecies of white-tailed deer in North America. Subspecies are distinguished by geographic location, body size, coloration, antler growth, and physiological, biochemical, and behavioral differences .

Scientific name

The genus name Odocoileus is from the Greek words odon (tooth) and koilos (hollow) or "hollow tooth," in reference to the depressions in the crown of the molar teeth. The Latinized species name virginianus (of Virginia) refers to the state from which the species was first collected and described.

Pennsylvania Law

The law designating the whitetail deer as the official Pennsylvania state animal is found in The Pennsylvania Statutes, Title 71, Chapter 6, Section 1007.

Title 71 P.S. State Government
I. The Administrative Codes and Related Provisions
Chapter 6. Provisions Similar or Closely Related to Provisions of the Administrative Code
Secretary and Department of Internal Affairs
State Emblems

§ 1007. State animal

The whitetail deer is an animal that is found in abundance in the wooded areas of our Commonwealth and has played an integral part in solving the problem of survival of our early settlers and Indian population. The "whitetail," as it is affectionately referred to, is a proud and noble animal possessing intelligence, endurance and character. Therefore, the "whitetail deer" is selected, designated and adopted as the official State animal of this Commonwealth.

1959, Oct. 2, P.L. 1005, No. 416, § 1.


1990 Main Volume

Title of Act:

An Act designating the whitetail deer as the official State animal. 1959, Oct. 2, P.L. 1005, No. 416.

71 P.S. § 1007, PA ST 71 P.S. § 1007

Taxonomic Hierarchy: White-tailed Deer

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Cervidae
    Subfamily: Capreolinae
Genus: Odocoileus
Species: O. virginianus

State Mammals
State Mammals & Animals
Mammals are vertebrates (backboned animals) that feed their young on mother's milk.