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Subfamily Hydropotinae
Chinese water deer
The subfamily Hydropotinae contains a single modern species, the Chinese water deer (Hydropotes inermis), which is native to Korea and eastern China. Traditionally, this species has been thought of as the most primitive of the Cervidae due to the presence of enlarged upper canines and a lack of antlers (the same pattern as in the Tragulidae and Moschidae). The general body plan is similar to that of the musk deer, but skull characters firmly plant the water deer in the family Cervidae. This species has a unique pair of inguinal glands, in addition to small preorbital glands and interdigital glands on the hind legs.

Recent studies have been collecting an increasing amount of evidence that the Hydropotinae is actually invalid. In several molecular studies, Hydropotes has allied closely with the roe deer (Capreolus: Capreolinae). Several morphological studies have also suggested that the water deer may in fact be an advanced deer that has secondarily evolved primitive characters.

Several features shared by roe deer and the water deer could be explained by a common evolutionary past. Both genera have a telemetacarpal foot structure (as do all members of the Capreolinae), are cold tolerant, and inhabit temperate regions rather than tropical ones (as one would expect from primitive cervids). While the ancestors of roe deer migrated into Asia from North America, the water deer has typically been seen as a historically Asian species. However, the distribution of Hydropotes in eastern Asia might be explained by a similar migration from the New World, the center of Capreolinae evolution.

The Hydropotinae Family Tree
Branch lengths are not proportional to time

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Cervidae
Hydropotes inermis

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Literature Cited

Geist, V. 1998. Deer of the World: Their Evolution, Behaviour, and Ecology. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books.

Kuznetsova, M. V., M. V. Kholodova, and A. A. Danilkin. 2005. Molecular Phylogeny of Deer (Cervidae: Artiodactyla). Russian Journal of Genetics; 41(7): 742-749.

Pitra, C., J. Fickel, E. Meijaard, and P. C. Groves. 2004. Evolution and phylogeny of old world deer. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution; 33: 880-895.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder [editors]. 2005. Mammal Species of the World (3rd Edition). Johns Hopkins University Press, 2,142 pp.