Teeth like these might seem Transylvanian but this isn’t really the face of Dracula. Despite the fangs the musk deer, sometimes nicknamed the vampire deer, won’t suck your blood. No, at the very worst it’ll just wipe its butt on you.
So what’s with the teeth?
In all actuality the musk deer isn’t much of a deer. A close analysis of their genetics and strange appearance has revealed they’ve got more in common with sheep, goats, cattle and African antelope than other deer. It seems that musk deer separated from ancestral deer a long time ago, and perhaps the most obvious clue for this is their lack of antlers.
Males instead grow elongated canines (vampire fangs) in their upper jaw, which are then used for the same purpose as deer use antlers (or men post gym selfies) – to show the other males they’re way tougher. In all seven species of musk deer it is also only the males that do the butt rubbing.
And why the butt rubbing?
This comes down to the musk part of the musk deer’s name. Males have a scent gland the size of a tennis ball near their genitals that secretes musk – their secret weapon for reeling in the ladies. So to attract females and spread the love/musk, they go around and wipe their butt on stuff.
And don’t underestimate the power of musk because humans can’t seem to get enough of it either. It’s one of the most expensive animal products, with 1g worth over $250, and almost 1000kg consumed each year. This is because musk is used to make expensive perfumes and colognes as well as being huge in Chinese medicine.
So fancy that, you could be spraying some musk deer secretion on you every time you go to work or popping it into your Chinese medicine taking mouth. Luckily there are sustainable farms it can be collected from but they still don’t meet demand.
I just think maybe don’t make perfume out of a deer’s butt stuff or find more evidence of it’s medicinal properties before we continue to farm them, because these incredible organisms are far too musky, tusky and odd to part with!
Feldhamer, G. A., & McShea, W. J. (2012). Deer: The Animal Answer Guide. JHU Press.
Meng, X., Liu, D., Feng, J., & Meng, Z. (2012). Asian medicine: exploitation of wildlife. Science, 335(6073), 1168-1168.
Meng, X., Zhao, C., Hui, C., & Luan, X. (2011). Behavioral aspects of captive Alpine musk deer during non-mating season: gender differences and monthly patterns. Asia.-Austr. J. Anim. Sci, 24, 707-712.