An Ultimate Ungulate Fact SheetReturn to Artiodactyla

Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Chordata
    Class: Mammalia
      Order: Artiodactyla
        Family: Cervidae
          Subfamily: Hydropotinae
            Genus: Hydropotes

Hydropotes inermis

      Chinese water deer


Hydropotes inermis [Swinhoe, 1870].  
Citation: Athenaeum, 2208:264.
Type locality: China, Kiangsu, Chingkiang, Yangtze River, Deer Isl.

General Characteristics

Body Length: 75-100 cm / 2.5-3.3 ft.
Shoulder Height: 45-55 cm / 18-22 in.
Tail Length: 6-7.5 cm / 2.4-3 in.
Weight: 9-14 kg / 20-31 lb.

The coat is an overall golden brown colour, and may be interspersed with black hairs, while the undersides are white.  The strongly tapered face is reddish brown or gray in colour, and the chin and upper throat are cream coloured.  The coarse hair is grows longer on the flanks and rump.  Young are born dark brown with white stripes and spots along their upper torso.  The ears are short and very rounded.  The back is arched, and the rear legs are much more powerful than the forelegs.  The canines of males grow into formidable tusks up to 8 cm / 3.2 inches in length, protruding like fangs from the sides of the mouth.

Ontogeny and Reproduction

Gestation Period: 180-210 days.
Young per Birth: 1-3, occasionally up to 4 or even 8.
Sexual Maturity: Females at 7-8 months, males at 5-6 months.
Life span: 10-12 years.

Mating occurs from November to January, and most births take place in late May, June, and July.

Ecology and Behavior

Active in the morning and evening, the water deer hides in dense vegetation for the rest of the day.  If disturbed, the Chinese water deer flees in a series of rabbit-like hops, during which the back is humped in an exaggerated manner.  They are excellent swimmers, and may swim for several kilometers when travelling between islets in search of food and shelter.  Despite their solitary nature, Chinese water deer make a harsh warning bark, and if alarmed will emit a shrill shriek.  Males are extremely territorial and mark their ranges with dung piles, as well as by rubbing their glandless foreheads against trees.  This territory is very well defended, with all rival males being attacked on sight.  These confrontations consist of the competitors standing nearly parallel to each other, with their heads at the other's shoulder.  The heads are swung down repeatedly in an attempt to wound the neck and shoulder of the rival.  These battles are often bloody, with strips of hair and skin being torn away.  The fight is ended by the loser, who either lays their head and neck on the ground, or turns tail and is chased out of the territory.

Family group: Solitary, sometimes in pairs.
Diet: Grasses, reeds, vegetables


Swampy, open grasslands in China and Korea.  A large population of these deer reside in the English countryside, established by escapees form the Duke of Bedford's deerpark, while a feral population has been introduced into France.

Range Map (Redrawn from Whitehead, 1993)

Conservation Status

The Chinese water deer is a low risk, near threatened species (IUCN, 1996), and is often trapped as a pest in China.  The subspecies H. i. inermis has the same designation as the overall species, while not enough data is present to evaluate the status of H. i. argyropus.


Hudor (Greek), hudr- as a prefix, water; potes (Greek) a drinker: referring to the animal's liking for marshy ground.  Inermis (Latin) unarmed: the Chinese water deer does not possess antlers.

Literature Cited

Bützler, W. 1990.  Water deer.  In Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals.  Edited by S. P. Parker.  New York: McGraw-Hill.  Volume 5, pp. 198-199.

Nowak, R. M. [editor]. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World (Fifth Edition). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Whitehead, K. G.  1993.  The Whitehead Encyclopedia of Deer.  Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press, Inc.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder [editors]. 1993. Mammal Species of the World (Second Edition). Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.  Available online at

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© Brent Huffman,
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