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An Ultimate Ungulate Fact Sheet
Subfamily Capreolinae
New World (Telemetecarpal) deer
The Capreolinae, in contrast to the Cervinae, are found primarily in North and South America - of the 22 modern species, only four species are found in Eurasia (two - Alces alces and Rangifer tarandus - have specific or subspecific counterparts in the New World). Due to a lack of strong competition from other ungulate groups, the Capreolinae have become the most successful present-day New World ungulates. They are more specialized and more widely adapted than the Old World Cervinae, containing both the largest modern deer (Alces sp., with some individuals weighing over 800 kg) as well as the smallest cervid species (Pudu sp., never weighing more than 15 kg).

Until recently, the Capreolinae were known as the Odocoileinae - named after the highly-successful genus Odocoileus. Indeed, the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) has one of the broadest geographical distributions of any deer, ranging from the Arctic Circle to below the Equator, and is the oldest modern cervid species, indistinguishable from fossils from 3.5 million years ago.

The origins of the Capreolinae are uncertain due to a scarcity of early fossils. However, molecular data indicates that this subfamily likely diverged from the Old World cervid radiation (Cervinae) at some time during the middle Miocene. The earliest known fossil evidence of this subfamily appear in North America and Eurasia around 5 million years ago. Members of the Capreolinae reached South America via the Panama land bridge during the late Pliocene or early Pleistocene, and rapidly evolved into many forms specialized for various niches. Again, the fossil record at this time is scant, but it has been suggested that all South American species are descended from Odocoileus.

Four tribes are generally recognized:

  1. Alceini - moose
  2. Capreolini - roe deer
  3. Rangiferini - caribou
  4. Odocoileini - New World deer

Alceini and Rangiferini are sometimes treated as separate cervid subfamilies. As discussed with the Hydropotinae, molecular evidence is becoming stronger that the water deer (Hydropotes inermis) is in fact an atypical member of the Capreolinae, clustering next to the genus Capreolus (and sometimes included in the tribe Capreolini). These two genera, plus the adjacent Alceini cluster separately from the rest of this subfamily, sharing several cerebral and cytogenetic characters.

The telemetacarpal foot structure is the most characteristic feature of this group (a diagnostic feature if Hydropotes is included within the subfamily) - the second and fifth metacarpals are present as distal splinters of bone (by the dewclaws). Pedal glands are found in the hind legs of all species, and tarsal glands are always present (if rudimentary). Unlike the Cervinae, the antler cycle includes a pause between when the antlers are shed and when the new pair begins growing.

The Capreolinae Family Tree
Branch lengths are not proportional to time
(From Hernandez-Fernandez and Vrba, 2005)



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Alces alces

Alces americanus

Capreolus capreolus

Capreolus pygargus

Rangifer tarandus

Blastocerus dichotomus

Ozotoceros bezoarticus

Odocoileus hemionus

Odocoileus virginianus

Hippocamelus antisensis

Hippocamelus bisulcus

Mazama gouazoubira

Mazama nemorivaga

Mazama americana

Mazama temama

Mazama pandora

Mazama bororo

Mazama chunyi

Mazama nana

Mazama bricenii

Mazama rufina

Pudu mephistophiles

Pudu puda

Click on the species above to learn more,
or jump to the Capreolinae Species List
Literature Cited

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

Hernandez-Fernandez, M., and E. S. Vrba. 2005. A complete estimate of the phylogenetic relationships in Ruminantia: a dated species-level supertree of the extant ruminants. Biological Review; 80: 269-302.

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.