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Temporal range: Late Miocene–Recent
Cervus elaphus
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Cervidae
Subfamily: Cervinae
Tribe: Cervini
Genus: Cervus
Linnaeus, 1758
Type species
Cervus elaphus
Also see text

Cervus is a genus of deer that primarily are native to Eurasia, although one species occurs in northern Africa and another in North America. In addition to the species presently placed in this genus, it has included a whole range of other species now commonly placed in other genera. Additionally, the species-level taxonomy is in a state of flux.




Until the 1970s, Cervus also included the members of the genera Axis , Dama , and Elaphurus , and until the late 1980s, it included members of Rucervus and Rusa . [1]


In the third edition of Mammal Species of the World from 2005, only the red deer (C. elaphus) and sika deer (C. nippon) were recognized as species in the genus Cervus. [1] Genetic and morphological evidence suggest more species should be recognized. [2] [3] For example, the species Cervus canadensis (elk/wapiti) is considered a separate species. [4]

Red deer species group

Within the red deer species group, some sources have recommended the Central Asian red deer (Cervus hanglu) should be treated as a species. [2] [4] [5] If the Central Asian red deer (from the Caspian Sea to western China) is recognized as a species, it includes the Yarkand deer and Bactrian deer (the two may be synonymous), but it could possibly also include the Kashmir stag, which has not been sampled in recent studies. [2] [4] If it is included in the Central Asian red deer, the scientific name of that species is C. hanglu. If it is not included, the scientific name of that species is C. yarkandensis, and the Kashmir stag (C. hanglu) may represent a separate monotypic species. [2] [4] The Central Asian red deer was considered its own species (including the Yarkand deer, Kashmir stag and Bactrian deer as subspecies) by the IUCN in 2017, [6] and by the American Society of Mammalogists in 2021. [7]

Others members of the red deer group, which may represent separate species, are C. corsicanus , C. wallichi and C. xanthopygus . [2] [3] If so, C. corsicanus includes the subspecies C. c. barbarus (perhaps a synonym of corsicanus), and is restricted to Maghreb in North Africa, Corsica and Sardinia. [2] [4] C. wallichi would probably include the subspecies C. w. kansuensis and C. w. macneilli (both are perhaps synonyms of C. w. wallichi), and would be found from Tibet to central China. [2] [4] [8] C. xanthopygus would probably include the subspecies C. x. alashanicus (perhaps a synonym of C. x. xanthopygus), and would be found from the Russian Far East to northeastern China. [2] [4] [8] This would restrict the "true" red deer (C. elaphus) to Europe, Anatolia, the Caucasus and northwestern Iran, and the elk/wapiti (C. canadensis) to North America and the Asian regions of the Tian Shan, Altai, and Great Khingan. [2] Alternatively, the barbarus group species are subspecies of the "true" red deer, while the C. wallichii and C. xanthopygus groups are subspecies of the elk/wapiti. [4]

Sika deer species group

It has been proposed that the sika deer should be split into four species based on genetics, morphology and voice, [3] although this may be premature based on the presently available evidence. [9] If split, the potential species are C. yesoensis from northern and central Japan (Hokkaido and northern and central Honshu), C. nippon of southern Japan (southern Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu, Okinawa, Tsushima and other small islands), C. hortulorum of mainland Asia (the Russian Far East, Korea, central and eastern China and northern Vietnam), and C. taiouanus of Taiwan. [3]

Fossil species

Mating system

Members of the genus Cervus have polygynous mating systems within harems. [10] These harems consist of several males, numerous females and their young offspring 1–3 years in age [11] Members of this genus have a yearly breeding season where they display sensory exploitation, intrasexual competition, and weaponry. Females will fight for optimal mating opportunities and sexually selection for males with larger antler size and/or greater roar quality. [12] The degree of polygyny and female aggregation is dependent on the level of food distribution. Females aggregating in areas with more food leading to larger harems [13] Female distribution influences the level of polygyny.

Red deer in the Czech republic Red deer portrait.jpg
Red deer in the Czech republic

Female-female competition

Female-female competition has been observed within harems in the red deer species (Cervus elaphus) prior to and during the mating season. Aggression is displayed through nose threats, kicking, and displacements. Elevated aggression has only been observed during the breeding season. Competition can be for access to mates or reproductive resources such as food, or nesting areas. [12] Female-female aggression in ungulates is often overlooked because it is not as extravagant as male antler combat. Female conflicts occur so the winner has first access to the harem male at the start of the mating season before he is exhausted or low on sperm storage. [12]

Secondary sexual traits

While an emphasis in observations of sexual selection is placed on combat using antlers, males with higher roaring rates are also being selected for. During the breeding season males will make calls to attract mates and compete with other males. Like antler size, mating call quality is an indicator of mate potential. Red deer can distinguish the calls of the males in their harem, others and their offspring. [14]

Indirect benefits

Females select for males with larger antlers which indirectly benefits them. Large antler size in males is a sign of health and strength. The visual display is a reliable indicator of mate quality, providing indirect benefits. The females are not directly affected by these characteristics, but they will produce more viable and fit offspring. Males with large antlers mate and sire more offspring than smaller, younger males. Large antler size is correlated with overall health, fitness and an increase in sperm production and quality. [10]

Related Research Articles

Sika deer Species of deer native to much of East Asia

The sika deer, also known as the spotted deer or the Japanese deer, is a species of deer native to much of East Asia and introduced to other parts of the world. Previously found from northern Vietnam in the south to the Russian Far East in the north, it is now uncommon except in Japan, where the species is overabundant.

A bachelor herd is a herd of (usually) juvenile male animals who are still sexually immature or 'harem'-forming animals who have been thrown out of their parent groups but not yet formed a new family group. It may also refer to a group of males who are not currently territorial or mating with females.

Rut (mammalian reproduction) Mating season of ruminant mammals

The rut is the mating season of certain mammals, which includes ruminants such as deer, sheep, camels, goats, pronghorns, bison, giraffes and antelopes, and extends to others such as skunks and elephants. The rut is characterized in males by an increase in testosterone, exaggerated sexual dimorphisms and increased aggression and interest in females. The males of the species may mark themselves with mud, undergo physiological changes or perform characteristic displays in order to make themselves more visually appealing to the females. Males also use olfaction to entice females to mate using secretions from glands and soaking in their own urine.

Red deer Species of mammal

The red deer is one of the largest deer species. A male red deer is called a stag or hart, and a female is called a hind. The red deer inhabits most of Europe, the Caucasus Mountains region, Anatolia, Iran, and parts of western Asia. It also inhabits the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and Tunisia, being the only species of deer to inhabit Africa. Red deer have been introduced to other areas, including Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, Peru, Uruguay, Chile and Argentina. In many parts of the world, the meat (venison) from red deer is used as a food source.

Irish elk Extinct species of deer

The Irish elk, also called the giant deer or Irish deer, is an extinct species of deer in the genus Megaloceros and is one of the largest deer that ever lived. Its range extended across Eurasia during the Pleistocene, from Ireland to Lake Baikal in Siberia. The most recent remains of the species have been carbon dated to about 7,700 years ago in western Russia.

Chital Species of deer

The chital, also known as spotted deer, chital deer, and axis deer, is a deer species native to the Indian subcontinent. It was first described by German naturalist Johann Christian Polycarp Erxleben in 1777. A moderate-sized deer, male chital reach nearly 90 cm (35 in) and females 70 cm (28 in) at the shoulder. While males weigh 30–75 kg (66–165 lb), the lighter females weigh 25–45 kg (55–99 lb). It is sexually dimorphic; males are larger than females, and antlers are present only on males. The upper parts are golden to rufous, completely covered in white spots. The abdomen, rump, throat, insides of legs, ears, and tail are all white. The antlers, three-pronged, are nearly 1 m long.

Thorolds deer Species of mammal

Thorold's deer is a threatened species of deer found in grassland, shrubland, and forest at high altitudes in the eastern Tibetan Plateau. It is also known as the white-lipped deer for the white patches around its muzzle.

Barbary stag Subspecies of deer

The Barbary stag, also known as the Atlas deer or African elk, is a subspecies of the red deer that is native to North Africa. It is the only deer known to be native to Africa, aside from Megaceroides algericus, which went extinct approximately 6,000 years ago.

The Yarkand deer, also known as the Theenivs deer, Tarim deer, or Lop Nor stag, is a subspecies of the Central Asian red deer that is native to the province of Xinjiang, China. It is similar in ecology to the related Bactrian deer in occupying lowland riparian corridors surrounded by deserts. Both populations are isolated from one another by the Tian Shan Mountains and probably form a primordial subgroup of the Central Asian red deer.

Kashmir stag The only elk subspecies in India

The Kashmir stag, also called hangul, is a subspecies of Central Asian red deer endemic to Kashmir, India. It is found in dense riverine forests in the high valleys and mountains of the Kashmir Valley and northern Chamba district in Himachal Pradesh. In Kashmir, it is found in the Dachigam National Park where it receives protection but elsewhere it is more at risk. In the 1941s, the population was between 3000 and 5000 individuals, but since then habitat destruction, over-grazing by domestic livestock and poaching have reduced population dramatically. Earlier believed to be a subspecies of red deer, a number of mitochondrial DNA genetic studies later had the hangul as a part of the Asian clade of the elk. The IUCN and American Society of Mammalogists, however, includes it in the new grouping of Central Asian red deer, with the Kashmir stag being the type subspecies. According to the census in 2019, there were only 237 hanguls.

Bactrian deer Subspecies of deer

The Bactrian deer, also called the Bukhara deer, Bokhara deer, or Bactrian wapiti, is a lowland subspecies of Central Asian red deer native to Central Asia. It is similar in ecology to the related Yarkand deer in occupying riparian corridors surrounded by deserts. The subspecies are separated from one another by the Tian Shan Mountains and probably form a primordial subgroup of the red deer.

Tibetan red deer Subspecies of deer

The Tibetan red deer also known as shou, is a subspecies of elk (wapiti) native to the southern Tibetan highlands and Bhutan. Once believed to be near-extinct, its population has increased to over 8,300, the majority of which live in a 120,000-hectare nature reserve established in 1993 in Riwoqê County, Qamdo Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region, China. Some have been kept at the beginning of the 20th century in London, and in a small zoo south of Lhasa.

Manchurian wapiti Subspecies of deer

The Manchurian wapiti is a subspecies of the wapiti native to East Asia.

Cervinae Subfamily of deer

The Cervinae or the Old World deer, are a subfamily of deer. Alternatively, they are known as the plesiometacarpal deer, due to their ankle structure being different from the telemetacarpal deer of the Capreolinae.

Elk Large antlered species of deer from North America and East Asia

The elk, also known as the wapiti, is one of the largest species within the deer family, Cervidae, and one of the largest terrestrial mammals in its native range of North America, as well as Central and East Asia. It is often confused with the larger Alces alces, which is called moose in North America, but called elk in British English, and related names in other European languages. The name "wapiti" is used in Europe for Cervus canadensis. It originates from the Shawnee and Cree word waapiti, meaning 'white rump'.

Central Asian red deer Deer species

The Central Asian red deer is a deer species native to Central Asia, where it used to be widely distributed, but is scattered today with small population units in several countries. It has been listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List since 2017. It was first described in the mid-19th century.

Altai wapiti Subspecies of deer

The Altai wapiti is a subspecies of Cervus canadensis found in the forest hills of southern Siberia, northwestern Mongolia, and northern Xinjiang province of China. It is different from the Tian Shan wapiti in being smaller and paler in color.

Corsican red deer Subspecies of deer

The Corsican red deer, also known simply as the Corsican deer or Sardinian deer, is a subspecies of the red deer, endemic to the Mediterranean islands of Sardinia (Italy) and Corsica (France).


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