Key Deer: Odocoileus virginianus clavium


The Key deer is the smallest of all white-tailed deer. Bucks range from 28-32 inches at the shoulder and weigh an average of 80 pounds, while does stand 24-28" at the shoulder and weigh an average of 65 pounds.


The Key deer is a subspecies of the white-tailed deer and is only found in the keys of southern Florida.

The Key deer's historical range probably extended from Key Vaca to Key West. Their current range includes approximately 26 islands from Big Pine Key to Sugarloaf Key. Due to uncontrolled hunting and habitat destruction, their numbers were estimated at less than 50 animals in the 1940's. With the establishment of National Key deer Refuge in 1957 and intensive law enforcement efforts, the population has since increased and has now stabilized. A research study completed in 2000 estimated the population between 700 and 800 deer with two-thirds of this population located on Big Pine Key.

Key deer use all habitat types within their range, including pine rocklands, hardwood hammocks, mangroves, and freshwater wetlands. Pine rocklands are of particular importance because they contain permanent freshwater sources, which are essential for their survival. Key deer feed on over 160 species of plants including the native red, black and white mangroves and thatch palm berries. As human development has increased within the range of the Key deer they have increased their use of residential and commercial areas where they feed on ornamental plants.


The increase in the human population has led to an increase in illegal feeding of Key deer. As with other wildlife, feeding or enticing Key deer is harmful for many reasons, but primarily because it lessens their fear of humans. Key deer can be found foraging in yards and on the sides of most roads where they eagerly approach people and slow moving vehicles for hand-outs. Road kills account for 70 percent of the annual mortality of Key deer. Illegal feeding also causes a concentration of deer, facilitating the spread of parasites and disease.

So head down to the National Key Deer Wildlife Refuge to view this unique subspecies but keep a respectful distance and only offer them your appreciation.

Additional Information:

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FWC Facts:
The FWC’s Angler Tag Return Hotline, 800-367-4461, collects data regarding tagged fish that anglers have captured or sighted in Florida waters.

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