A new species of red deer

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A new species

of red deer

This article by Frederick Zeuner was first published in the 1940 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

A beach conglomerate found at about 25 feet above middle water in the cave of the Belle Hougue, on the north coast of Jersey, has puzzled paleontologists for more than 20 years.

Geological evidence bears out that the 25-foot beach around the island was formed during the last interglacial, but the fauna enclosed in the deposit mentioned seemed to indicate a late Pliocene age.

This impression was chiefly caused by the presence of a small form of deer which Andrews compared with Cervus etueriarum and C issiodorensis from the so-called late Pliocene of the Auvergne, though he expressly did not identify the Jersey form with any kind of deer known to him.

Later on, his words were too readily interpreted as a definite determination, and the “late Pliocene 25-foot beach” was widely accepted.

Bones re-examined

A re-examination of the bones, however, has shown that they belong to a minute race of red deer, curious in several respects, and that there is no reason whatever for assigning the 25-foot beach to any other phase but the last interglacial.

The most conspicuous parts preserved of the deer are the antlers. The holotype has a pedicle 2 cm high. The brow-tine is inserted 4 cm above the burr. The bez-tine is absent, and the beam measures 17 cm between brow- and trez-tine. Tines and beam lie nearly in one plane.

The absence of the bez-tine is striking, but none of the antlers can have belonged to fallow-deer.

In this species, the brow-tine sits on the burr and forms a very wide angle with the beam, and the latter is strongly bent outwards. There is, however, much resemblance to Sika in most of the essential characters.

Museum fossils compared

A comparison of the fossils with specimens of Sika in the British Museum (Natural History) proved that the fossil form is within the range of variation of this recent east Asiatic genus, at least as far as the antlers are concerned.

The holotype of Sika hortulorum approaches the fossil very closely, having a high pedicle, high insertion of brow-tine, and a similar bend of the beam. It is more slender generally, but other specimens of Sika exhibit thicker beams, so that this difference would not have to be taken seriously.

The only feature of the antler, which deviates to some extent from Sika, is the angle between brow-tine and beam. In the average of 15 specimens of Sika it is 70°, the largest measured angle being 80°. In the fossil form, the average of four measurable specimens is 85°, with the smallest value 75°, the largest 95°. This angle thus appears to be somewhat too large for Sika.

The genus Sika is allied to the genus Cervus proper, i.e. the group of C elaphus, the red deer, in which the angle averages 95° (smallest value 85°).

In its typical form C elaphus, however, has a bez-tine, absent both in Sika and the fossil, and the size is much larger than that of Sika.

The red deer of north America (the Wapiti) and of east Asia attain the size of a horse, but going west one observes a gradual reduction in size until, in central Europe, north France and Great Britain one meets geographical subspecies of moderate size, as they are familiar to everybody.

Minute race

The most westerly subspecies of red deer are the Barbary deer and the Corsican deer. They are the smallest of all living red deer. This decrease in size westwards suggests that the fossils from the Belle Hougue cave might belong to a minute insular race of western red deer, and not to Sika which, for geographical reasons alone, is unlikely to have occurred in Europe.

This suggestion can be substantiated in two different ways:-

  • The antlers of red deer from western Norway (C elaphus atlanticus Lonnberg), Spain (C e hispanicus Hilzheimer), and (owing to inter¬breeding to a minor degree) those from Great Britain very often have no bez-tine, and in Barbary and Corsican deer it is quite normally absent. The absence of this tine in the deer from the Belle Hougue thus appears to be a character common to all western subspecies of red deer.
  • A feature of the shoulder-blade finally settles the question of the specific relationship of the fossil form. Shoulder-blades of deer show on the inner side close to the hind margin a ridge which is steep and pronounced in red deer, weaker in Sika and weakest in fallow deer. In addition, this ridge is very close to the edge in red deer, and removed from it in fallow deer. In this character, the deer from the Belle Hougue plainly agrees with Cervus elaphus.

Thus, there is no justification in considering the deer from the 25-foot beach of Jersey as anything but a race of Cervus elaphus, its small size being connected with the island habitat.

It appears to have evolved from the western branch of Cervus elaphus during the last interglacial, when Jersey was for a long period completely severed from the Continent.

Supplementary evidence for its being a dwarf race is provided by the metacarpus which, proportionately, is much shorter than in ordinary red deer, and almost reminiscent of goat. Since all other geographical races of red deer have received subspecific names, the fossil form from the Belle Hougue may be distinguished as Cervus elaphus jerseyensis, ssp n.

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