The Sika Deer is
a medium-sized Asian herbivore, but found across the world – either native or
introduced – and in several subspecies, with the largest being the Manchurian
sika deer. Though the sikas are termed as
‘deer’, they are actually a member of the ‘elk’ family. It is also known in several different names like spotted deer, Japanese deer,
elk, and Asian elk.
Size: Depending on their subspecies, the height can vary from 50 to 110 cm (20 to 43 in) at the shoulder, and 95 to 180 cm (37 to 71 in) in head-and-body length.
weight varies between subspecies, with the average adult weight being 42 kg.
Coat: The body
hair color ranges from chestnut-brown to reddish-olive, displaying dramatic
variations in colors like tan, black, gray, yellow-brown, or gray-brown, and
with or without spots, all depending on the subspecies.
subspecies have a compact body and are
dainty-legged, while the head is short, trim, and wedge-shaped.
short tail measures between 7.5 and 13 cm (3.0–5.1 in) in length.
Antlers (Horns): The
stags have stout, upright antlers that can range from 28 to 80 cm (11 to 30 in),
depending on the subspecies.
Sexual Dimorphism: Males
are considerably larger than the females, and have antlers.
The maximum longevity recorded in the wild is 25 years and 5 months. However, in captivity, the average lifespan
of the species is 15 to 18 years.
The native range of the deer is the southern Ussuri district
of eastern Siberia, Japan, China, Formosa, Taiwan, Korea, Manchuria, and some parts
of Vietnam. They have also been introduced in many places around the world viz.
Australia, England, France, Maryland, Morocco, Oklahoma, Texas, Wisconsin,
Virginia, Ireland, Jolo Island (south of the Philippines), New Zealand, Poland,
Scotland, Denmark, and Austria.
In the wild, the sika deer are
mostly found in the temperate and the subtropical forests and woodlands of
eastern Asia, as also, around the patchy clearings of jungles, quiet marshes, and forested wetlands.
Classification of Species
Though the exact status of many subspecies still remains disputed and unclear, the biologists
have roughly categorized them under 13 local subspecies, as follows:
C. n. aplodontus
from northern Honshu
C. n. grassianus
from Shanxi, China
C. n. keramae
from Kerama Islands of the Ryukyu Islands, Japan
C. n. kopschi
from southern China
C. n. mandarinus
from northern and northeastern China
C. n. mantchuricus
from northeastern China, Korea, and the Russian
C. n. nippon from southern Honshu,
Shikoku, and Kyushu
C. n. pseudaxis
from northern Vietnam
C. n. pulchellus
from Tsushima Island
C. n. sichuanicus
from western China
C. n. soloensis
from Southern Philippines [anciently introduced in Jolo island (unknown
subspecies origin), probably extinct]
C. n. taiouanus
C. n. yesoensis
The sika deer is mostly a nocturnal animal and are not
gregarious. They have a boisterous disposition and usually lead a solitary life,
though rarely seen groups. During the breeding season, the female sika deer and
its young ones form groups of around 2-3.
The male sika deer are territorial, marking the boundaries
by digging holes up to a width of 1.6 m, and a depth of 0.3 m, using their
antlers and forefeet. When done, they urinate in them from time to time to let
the other males be alert from the strong musky scent and the urine odor
released from that place.
During territorial disputes, the males get aggressive
towards each other and often use their hooves and antlers as the primary
weapons to fight back the opponent. They run medium speed using a stiff gallop, and can jump high making bounds of up
to 3 m.
In the absence of the females from their own species, the sika bucks may mate with young
hinds belonging to their closely-related red deer that share their range. However,
the sika bucks are not large enough to rival the red stags. The resultant hybrids
are able to breed in either direction.
Sounds and Calls
They communicate with each other using at least ten
different sounds, including bleats, whistles, and alarm barks. The males are
frequently seen emitting long and wailing bugle calls during the mating season.
The sika deer, like other species, are herbivore – or more
precisely, folivore – depending on plant matters for food, including leaves,
roots, tubers, soft wood, bark, stems,
seeds, grains, fruits, and nuts. They have also been
seen consuming fungus.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
These deer are polygynous and keep harems consisting of
several females during the rutting season. The females are highly receptive
between early September and October.
The size of territory during
the breeding season varies between habitat type, as well as, the buck’s size.
An adult, strong and healthy buck may hold up to 2 ha (5 acres) of land.
The gestation period of a healthy doe lasts for about seven months. In most cases, they give birth to
one single offspring. During birth, a juvenile can weigh between 4.5 to 7 kg
(9.9 to 15.4 lb), and remain under the care and nursing of the mother for up to
The fawn (baby deer) needs around 10 to 12 months to become independent and forage for their food. The
young deer – both males and females – attain the age of sexual maturity when
they are around 16 to 18 months old.
The sika deer is an
excellent swimmer and can readily enter the water to escape from predators.
These deer have strong antlers
and sharp hooves that they often use for defense purposes.
During the winter months,
their coat gets rougher, thicker so as to
keep them warm, and turns dark grey-brown in
color to absorb more sun rays.
The primary enemies of the sika deer are tigers, gray
wolves, leopards, and brown bears, as well as humans for hunting them for meat,
skin, and antlers. Lynx and golden eagles
usually target the fawns. However, the predators of these deer vary between
Considering their rapid increase in population, and being even considered as an invasive
species in many places, the IUCN 3.1 has declared the deer as ‘LC’ (Least
These deer are capable of
swimming up to 12 km in the sea.
The subspecies Formosan
sika deer (C. n. taioanus) has been extinct in the wild
for almost two decades.
The species is
overabundant in Japan, with a 2015 official report estimating their population
at 3,080,000, where they are often seen as pets, even roaming in public
Presently, it is illegal
to transfer sika or red deer to the Hebridean islands (Hebrides) to keep
away chances of hybridization, since the archipelago retains a good
population of pure red deer.
It gets its name from the Japanese word shika meaning ‘deer’, while In Japan, it is known as nihonjika that
translates to ‘Japan deer’.