Feb 192014
 

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

One thing that was established beyond a shadow of a doubt with this trail camera survey is that White-tailed Deer have a certain affinity for Bois d’Arc trees. When I set my cameras for this project I never expected that deer would be the most frequently photographed animals over the course of the survey. They were, though, by far and away.

But does this also mean that White-tailed Deer feed on Osage Oranges? Well, let’s find out.

Deer started coming to my sets just hours after I had left my cameras. At first it was does with their yearlings. Several came through and some stop to sniff the fruit on the ground or up in the tree, but none were seen to feed.

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

The occasional young buck would pass through, and they often seemed slightly more interested in the horse apples than the does and fawns, but I did not record them eating the fruit either. The most compelling pictures were like the one below. In this picture the young male deer seen licking a hanging Osage Orange.

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

It wasn’t until the first big mature bucks showed up on the scene that I finally got my answer.

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

As you can see in the following pictures, the older males do feed on Osage Oranges, and they eat them with relish!

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

This spot was visited frequently by several big males. Each time through they seemed to be motivated to partake of an Osage Orange, but they never ate many at one setting. Usually, they would consume a single fruit. On occasion a hungry buck might eat a second.

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

So in general it was the big mature bucks feeding on the Osage Oranges. One can only imagine what the attraction is. Perhaps the fruit and the tree are aromatic. Maybe the fruit is calorie or nutrient rich in a way that helps them stay fit for the ongoing rut. Not surprisingly, there was some sparring activity recorded on some of the busier nights toward the end of the survey period.

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

Finally, there is the exception that proves the rule. As the project began to wind down in late November, the trail camera recorded a few instances of does feeding on some of the remaining fruit. A resourceful yearling even stands upright on it two hind legs briefly in order to reach the lower branches of the Bois d’Arc tree.

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

White-tailed Deer - Osage Orange Eaters?

  6 Responses to “White-tailed Deer – Osage Orange Eaters?”

  1. Chris, again, a fantastic set of photographs, the result of your hard work and persistence. Thank you again.

    Well, my speculation about this not being previously documented was wrong.

    http://www.google.com/patents/US6506395

    [PDF] AUTUMNFOODS OF WHITE-TAILEDDEER
    D ADAMS – Proceedings Arkansas Academy off Science, 1988 – humanlibrary.uark.edu

    One enterprising person has even patented a deer attractant based on a chemical extracted from the fruit.

    Your photographs still would be an important contribution to natural history. From what I can tell, previous documentation of deer consuming the fruit is from rumen contents of deer killed by hunters. You have documented the behavior, and to my mind anyway, demonstrated that an animal that was present or had an ancestral species present during the time the plant would have evolved consumes the fruit in substantial numbers. Presence of the seed in deer scat and seedlings growing where scat was deposited would be great to document now.

    • Yes, I did a quick internet search after reading your other comment, and found lots of indications that it is well known that deer eat Osage Oranges. Also, there was a lot of confusion–especially in the sportsmen message boards–some claimed they did eat the fruit, and others were adamant that they would not eat it. This is a great example of one of the things that inspired me to create this website. With a little photographic evidence the case can largely be closed!

  2. I’ve always heard Osage Oranges be referred to as Horse Apples, I am glad to now know another name for them. Where were these pictures taken, if I may ask?

  3. Saw two bucks on the back side of a field I was hunting. They came out of the wooded area in Ohio I was hunting. After further investigation saw that they were lingering under two Hedge Apple trees that were littered with Hedge apples. I’m now a believer that not only do deer like them but bucks are especially attracted to them.

  4. I’m so glad to see these photos. I have fought misinformation about bois d’arc apples for years, so many people say they are not edible or even poisonous, and look at me with disbelief when I tell them how the cows and horses on our farm loved them, and ate them with no problem. I am doing a talk for urban forestry conference in Alabama next week and would love to borrow one of these photos if that is okay with you!

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