Doe with quad fawns had bad heart, teethIt’s not conclusive, but a combination of poor health and old age appear to be the main factors in the death of a whitetail doe that gave birth to quadruplet fawns this past spring near Minto.
By: Brad Dokken , Forum Communications
It’s not conclusive, but a combination of poor health and old age appear to be the main factors in the death of a whitetail doe that gave birth to quadruplet fawns this past spring near Minto.
The fawns, the first set of whitetail quadruplets ever documented in North Dakota, all died, as well.
The unusual birth was discovered in late May during a study the North Dakota Game and Fish Department is conducting to track deer movements and mortality in the northeast part of the state. As part of the study, 40 whitetail does in February were fitted with VHF collars; in addition, researchers inserted vaginal implant transmitters — VITs, for short — in 20 of the does to monitor fawn births and survival.
The VITs record the change in temperature when a doe gives birth, which in turn alerts researchers who then can trace the signal to the fawning site. Kristin Sternhagen, a South Dakota State University graduate student who’s tracking the study deer, discovered the quadruplet fawns May 29 southwest of Minto.
Sternhagen said in June two of the fawns died within two days, while the doe and a third fawn were dead the next day. That pretty much sealed the fate of the fourth fawn, which lived only two more days.
Bill Jensen, big game biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, said a necropsy — basically the wildlife equivalent of an autopsy — showed the doe was “an extremely old deer” with poor teeth and an enlarged heart.
“It had no front teeth — they were just like little brad nails sticking out of the gum,” Jensen said. “It didn’t have fluid around the heart sac, but a deer heart is usually hard; this one was flabby and about twice the size of normal.”
Like humans, deer are susceptible to heart problems at some point in their lives, he said.
Jensen said the doe had flushed, pinkish-colored skin, which suggests it had been struggling when it died. While deer are covered with hair, skin is visible in the ears and the groin and genital areas.
“It just could have stressed out and then had a heart attack,” Jensen said. “And in its last throes of death, that could have flushed the skin.”
He said the doe also had liver flukes, a common parasite in deer, but it’s not likely they caused the animal to die.
Jensen said Game and Fish sent tissue and teeth samples to other labs to learn more about the age of the doe and why it died. He said those results aren’t expected for several weeks.
The fawns basically starved to death, he said.
According to Jensen, deer in the wild can live into their late teens if they survive hunters, predators and severe winters — a big “if” in this part of the world.
“What drives it is if the teeth hold out,” Jensen said. “If they can’t eat anymore, then they die and usually, by the time they’re in their mid-teens, their teeth are about down to the gum line and then sticks get impacted between the teeth and gum, they start getting infections and can’t eat well, and then they go downhill pretty quickly.”
The deer study, which began in January, covers 500 square miles in parts of Grand Forks and Walsh counties and will continue for two years. According to Sternhagen, 35 of the 40 does collared in February are still alive. She said 18 fawns, including the quadruplets, also were collared this spring, and seven are still alive. The quads died of starvation, and it’s not clear what killed the other seven fawns, she said.
So far, so good is the word for the rest of the deer.