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Key Deer Facts | Florida Wildlife Guide

The Key deer (Odocoileus virginianus clavium) is just about the cutest little critter you’ve ever seen. It is the smallest subspecies of the white-tailed deer, with the largest bucks reaching 3 feet tall at the shoulder and weighing about 80 pounds. Adult females are about 2 feet tall at the shoulder and weigh 65 pounds – approximately the size of an average golden retriever.

Key deer are only found in the Florida Keys, and they have evolved to their diminutive size because of their island habitat. This phenomenon is known as “island dwarfism,” and it is believed to be one way animals adapt to survive in an environment with limited resources. Key deer are also excellent swimmers, allowing them to travel between the 26 islands that make up their range.

Hunting and habitat loss almost drove these deer to extinction in the 1940s, when their population was at a low of fewer than 50 remaining. In 1957, Florida established the National Key Deer Refuge to protect their remaining habitat, banned hunting, and erected fencing along roadsides to reduce road kills. These efforts have been successful, and the current population is estimated to be 700 – 800 adult and sub-adult deer.
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