5 Invasive Species That Are Threats to Whitetails

Have You Ever Had Issues with Any of These?

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Emerald Ash Borer

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1 | Emerald Ash Borer

About 7 billion ash trees span North America, and every single one of them is in jeopardy. The culprit is the emerald ash borer, an exotic beetle that showed up near Detroit, Michigan in the early 2000s. As of May, the beetle has been confirmed in three provinces and 33 states.

“Ninety-nine percent of the ashes in North America are probably going to die,” said Dr. Andrew Liebhold, a research entomologist with the US Forest Service.

Most damage caused by the borers is done by larvae that feeds on the inner bark. This hurts the tree’s ability to move water and nutrients, killing it within a few years of infestation.

The threat to whitetails is that the loss of tree canopy can completely alter the forest floor. This could modify things like feeding, bedding, and travel routes for deer.

“In the worst-case scenario, it becomes a dense, impenetrable thicket of shrubs in the understory,” said Dr. Kathleen Knight, a research ecologist with the US Forest Service.

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Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Michigan State University

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Burmese Python

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2 | Burmese Python

With no natural predators, the Burmese python has become established in southern Florida. It’s believed the snake escaped captivity from a breeding facility that was compromised during Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Burmese pythons are one of the largest snakes in the world. The average one captured in Florida measures between 6-feet and 9-feet long, but there have been 17-footers documented in the Everglades.

The obvious problem this creates for white-tailed deer is that they’re being targeted by pythons as a food source. In one case, a 31.5-pound python was found eating a 35-pound fawn. This wasn’t even a big snake, yet it was attempting to digest a whitetail that was 111 percent of its weight. This would mean it’s not unreasonable to imagine bigger pythons taking down mature deer.

The threat to deer and other wildlife is so pertinent that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has placed the animal on the Injurious Wildlife list, which heavily regulates the importation of the species.

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Conservancy of Southwest Florida

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Japanese Stiltgrass, Japanese Barberry, and Wine Raspberry

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3 | Japanese Stiltgrass, Japanese Barberry, and Wine Raspberry

These three plant species all come from Asia, and have a unique relationship with whitetails. Japanese stiltgrass, Japanese barberry, and wine raspberry aren’t hurt by deer, but are actually benefited.

One study looked at 23 different research sites to see how the presence of deer effects plant diversity. Scientists concluded that whitetails hurt plant diversity and allow invasives to flourish. It was found that deer prefer eating native plants, like oak seedlings and tulip poplar, and didn’t feed on many invasives.

After the deer took out much of the native plants, invasives like the three listed above would move in and takeover areas. When the invasive plants choke out the understory, it doesn’t allow many trees to grow.

This is problematic for whitetails because it makes them the enemy of timber harvesters, causing some areas to ignore quality deer management practices to lower herd numbers. In summary, deer eat native plants, nonnative plants takeover, foresters run out of trees, and deer become the ones to blame. Not only that but over time the invasives take over due to the overbrowsing of native plants and then food sources diminish over time.

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Michigan Invasive Species Network

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Texas Exotics

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4 | Texas Exotics

With Texas, there’s a blurred line between nonnative and invasive big game animals. To call something nonnative would imply that it was introduced for a purpose and doesn’t displace any native animals. To call something invasive would imply that the animal isn’t welcomed there and competes with native wildlife.

In the Lone Star State, there are more exotics than anywhere else in North America. According to the Texas Exotic Association, there are 76 species making up over 250,000 animals present. Big game such as axis, sika, fallow, blackbuck, and aoudad are accepted by many, but not every land manager can support them.

While whitetails prefer forbs to eat, so do all exotics. Multiple studies have shown whitetails are regularly out-competed for forbs, which leaves less desirable food sources to live off of. Deer cannot live off of grass alone, and can even die of starvation with a belly full of grass.

What might be a friendly exotic to some, could be a problematic invasive for others.

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Three Amigos Ranch

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Wild Hogs

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5 | Wild Hogs

Wild hogs are the archenemy of whitetails. They provide direct and indirect competition, and are as hardy as it gets. They pose problems to deer that almost everything else on this list does, plus some.

For starters, hogs are ultra-competitive with whitetails when it comes to food. They’ll eat acorns, corn, mast, and anything else a whitetail feeds on. They’ll pick a field clean that is meant to feed deer for a whole season, or run them out of protein feeders before the deer can finish.

Hogs will also straight up kill deer. It’s been documented that they’ll kill and eat fawns, and carry diseases capable of killing mature deer and causing abortions.

On top of that, they’re nearly impossible to get rid of and have a presence in 39 states. There’s no doubt about it that if hogs move into your neighborhood, the deer will suffer.

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Louisiana Bowhunter

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White-tailed deer are as successful as they’ve ever been across the country. However, that doesn’t mean they’re immune to the invasive species that they’re forced to share a home with. Some of these are obvious threats to our favorite big game, but others are more cynical than they appear.