Glandular contrasts between Aepyceros (impalas) of Africa and Odocoileus (white-tailed, black-tailed, and mule deer) of the Americas

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The bovid genus Aepyceros ( and the cervid genus Odocoileus ( are biologically comparable.

The former ( tends to be the most abundant ruminant in its habitat in southern and East Africa. The latter is the only ruminant of similar body size, shape, and colouration in much of North, central, and South America (

In this Post, I compare the various externally-expressed glandular organs ( in the two genera, in anatomical order from anterior to posterior.


A nasal gland is present in Odocoileus (, but unrecorded in Aepyceros.

This corresponds to the fact that the rhinarium - and particularly its moist surface - is far smaller in Aepyceros ( than in Odocoileus ( and

The functions of the secretions of the nasal gland probably include facilitation of vomeronasal olfaction (

Both Aepyceros and Odocoileus use the vomeronasal organ in the flehmen response ( and and and

However, the American genus may, in addition, have a broad vomeronasal olfactory facilitation, lacking in the African genus.

In both genera, there is an uninvestigated possibility of pheromonal/scent-production by nasal glands, spread by alarm-sneezing/snorting.


Both Aepyceros and Odocoileus are unusual among ruminants, in that preorbital glands are absent/poorly-developed.

Their only incidence is in adult males of Odocoileus in rutting condition. They have a masculine function in olfactory marking of plant stems/foliage, in combination with the licking of these objects (


The main function of salivary glands is in eating. However, there is a possibility of olfactory communication, by means of active or passive protrusion of the tongue.

Both genera show passive lingual protrusion ( and However, only Odocoileus uses the tongue for social licking/grooming.


In adult males of both Aepyceros and Odocoileus, masculine olfactory marking of vegetation is carried out by rubbing the pelage of the forehead on plants.


Aepyceros is unusual among both bovids and cervids in lacking interdigital glands, as well as having feet so specialised that dewclaws/false hooves are absent.

Odocoileus possesses interdigital glands on both fore- and hindlegs.

Furthermore, the American genus is somewhat unusual in that it exhibits demonstrative postures/gaits, which potentially promote and advertise the emission of interdigital secretions in an anti-predator context. I refer to stotting in Odocoileus hemionus hemionus and 'foot-stamping' in Odocoileus virginianus.


Preputial glands are absent in Aepyceros, but present in mature males of Odocoileus.


Please see the pale patch on the inner surface of the hock ( in, which shows an adult female individual of Odocoileus virginianus in summer pelage.

Tarsal glands are unrecorded in bovids, including Aepyceros.

The tarsal gland in Odocoileus is a feature of the pelage rather than a gland. It functions

  • to culture microbes intensively, based partly on the urine that is dribbled on to it by means of special squatting postures, and thus
  • to function mainly socially, producing olfactory signatures distinctive individually and according to sex, age, condition, and status.


Please see

Metatarsal glands occur in certain cervids, but are unrecorded in bovids other than Aepyceros.

Their function seems to be specialised: they react to anti-predator alarm by releasing olfactory signals, presumably detectable to both other members of the group and the predators themselves.

In the case of Odocoileus hemionus columbianus, the garlic-like odour of alarm is perceptible to humans.

The metatarsal glands in Aepyceros and Odocoileus are similar in anatomical position, on the lower hindlegs. However, they differ in that, in Aepyceros,

Within Odocoileus, there is noteworthy variation in the degree of development of the metatarsal gland both between and within species. The gland is better-developed in O. hemionus than in O. virginianus, and within the latter species it tends to be absent in the tropics and subtropics.


Caudal glands are unrecorded, and presumably absent, in Aepyceros, in line with most bovids.

However, caudal glands are known in Odocoileus.

As in the case of metatarsal glands, caudal glands are better-developed in O. hemionus than in O. virginianus. They presumably function mainly in anti-predator alarm.



Overall, the glandular profiles of Aepyceros and Odocoileus are surprisingly different, in ways unexplained by the fact that Aepyceros is sociosexually territorial, whereas Odocoileus is not.

The main similarities are

  • masculine sebaceous function in the pelage of the forehead, and
  • metatarsal glands, ostensibly functioning to signal anti-predator alarm, particularly during bounding/kick-stotting/stotting.

Aepyceros is poor in glands generally, and is extreme in lacking interdigital glands, a category common to various ruminants. For its part, Odocoileus is extreme in the degree of development of its tarsal glands, a category absent from all bovids.

Females of Aepyceros have only one important type of gland, viz. the metatarsal gland, and even this is thought not to be used sociosexually.

Compared to other bovids, Aepyceros communicates unusually raucously (

This auditory emphasis may perhaps partly explain the limited olfactory communication in Aepyceros.

The glandular differences shown above may also be partly related to the remarkable disparities in gaits and postures between the two genera (

These differences are greatest between the common impala (Aepyceros melampus) and the Rocky Mountain mule deer (O. hemionus hemionus,, as follows.

The common impala

By contrast, the mule deer


Also see

Publicado el marzo 9, 2024 03:24 TARDE por milewski milewski


Whitetail deer don't use a stot, which I've always found interesting. The blacktailed deer in my area definitely have well developed tarsal glands. I can pick up the scent with my human nose. It can be strong.

Publicado por beartracker hace 4 meses
Publicado por milewski hace 4 meses


Many thanks for your comment.

The lack of stotting in Odocoileus virginianus is a matter of interpretation, in the context that stotting (in the strict sense) is but one of a system of various 'fitness-displaying' gaits.

I make the following argument that O. virginianus has its own 'display gaits', thus differing from Aepyceros in its own way.

Firstly, O. virginianus, like O. hemionus, uses a 'display walk' when mildly alarmed ( and and

This consists of a halting, deliberate cross-walk, in which the lifting and lowering of the forefoot in particular is accentuated. Synchronous with the intermittent resumption of the limb-movements is the abrupt erection and sideways movement of the conspicuous tail.

This display, which hypothetically signals individual fitness/alertness, has no counterpart in Aepyceros.

Secondly, when O. virginianus initially flees, it tends to do so in a way more demonstrative than in most ruminants ( and and and and

This consists of a brief series of seemingly superfluous leaps, in which the tail is erect and wagged laterally, and the white pelage on the tail and buttocks is flared (piloerected).

The bovids most resembling O. virginianus, viz. Tragelaphus and Redunca, do not likewise raise the tail, and Tragelaphus lacks demonstrative gaits (beyond masculine display) altogether. In the case of Aepyceros, the initiation of fleeing is spectacular, featuring bounding. However, a) this is thought to serve to confuse targeting by predators, rather than displaying individual fitness, and b) there is no consistent caudal flagging, the tail tending to be tucked rather than displayed.

Publicado por milewski hace 4 meses
Publicado por milewski hace 4 meses

Interesting. The blacktailed deer doesn't do the tail caudal flagging that I have seen. But I have a limited sample size too. Just in watching them flee from me using the stot.

Publicado por beartracker hace 4 meses

Bounding by juvenile, reminiscent of stotting and including caudal flagging, illustrated 1:15ff in otherwise garbled footage

Publicado por milewski hace 4 meses

Odocoileus virginianus and and

Publicado por milewski hace 4 meses

The form looks like a stot to me.

Publicado por beartracker hace 4 meses


Thanks, but I meant the subspecies identity...

Publicado por milewski hace 4 meses

Suggestion of proud-trot in Odocoileus hemionus:

scroll to second photo in

Publicado por milewski hace 4 meses

The interdigital glands of Odocoileus are apparently palatable when thoroughly cooked:

Publicado por milewski hace 4 meses


The following, of Odocoileus virginianus, cannot be called 'stotting', but would you agree that it is a display of fitness, in some sense analogous to stotting in O. hemionus

Publicado por milewski hace 4 meses

Yeah, that does look like a fitness display. And flagging with the tail.

Publicado por beartracker hace 4 meses

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