Deer-horse Hybrids

Fact or Fiction?

EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD GENETICS

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A diligent scholar is like a bee who takes honey from many different flowers and stores it in his hive.
John Amos Comenius
horse-deer hybrid
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An alleged deer-horse hybrid. Note slender lower legs and deerlike tail. Contemporary reports claimed that the hoofs of this animal, foaled by a mare, were pointed and “partially double” (i.e., cloven). (Artist: George Landseer).

Red Deer Red Deer (Cervus elaphus), known also as an Elk or Wapiti in North America

Richard Fowler
Richard Fowler
(1767-1863)

Edward Pery Buckley Edward Pery Buckley
(1796-1873)

Note: It has been my policy in listing reports of hybrids to include all serious allegations, especially those of scholars, whether or not the hybrid alleged seems possible or likely to me. This policy, I think, helps to eliminate subjective judgment on my part, and therefore should remove at least one source of systematic bias from my work. It also helps to fulfill the ethical obligation of telling not just the truth, but the whole truth.

Note: Claims that hybrids can be produced from this highly disparate cross require confirmation.

This cross is not so well attested as the similar cross cow x horse, but various reports about deer-horse hybrids do exist in the older literature, all of which, seemingly, allege mating of Cervus elaphus stags with mares. One such account, which originally appeared in the Dec. 9, 1848 issue of the Illustrated London News accompanied by the drawing at right, reads as follows:

REMARKABLE HYBRID

This remarkable filly (seven months old) was found a short time since in the New Forest, and is evidently of a mixed breed, between the horse and the deer. The mother (a pony mare) was observed to associate with some red deer stags in the New Forest for some months, and, at last, this foal was seen by her side. The nose shows a proximity both to the stag and the horse; her forehead is round, like that of the deer; legs slender and distinctly double; hoofs pointed, and partly double; colour brown, lighter under the belly [as in a deer]; tail like a deer.

This extraordinary animal is the property of T. G. Attwater, Esq., of Attwater, at the village of Bodenham, three miles from Salisbury. Dr. Fowler, of that city has inspected the hybrid, and is quite satisfied with the correctness of the preceding statement; and Colonel Buckley (a Keeper of the New Forest) has likewise seen that animal, and is of a similar opinion.

Dr. Richard Fowler (1767-1863) was admitted to the College of Physicians of London in 1796, and opened his practice at Salisbury shortly thereafter. He was soon elected physician to the Salisbury Infirmary, and held that office till 1847. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1802, was successful in practice, and occupied a leading position in Salisbury for many years.

Colonel Edward Pery Buckley (1796-1873), later General Edward Pery Buckley, was attached to the courts of both George III and Queen Victoria. He served the latter as her Equerry (stable master) and therefore must have had extensive knowledge of horses. He also was a member of Parliament, his position as Keeper of the New Forest being only one of many roles he played in public service.

In a separate contemporary report, Volume 8 (issue 1, p. 36, Jan. 1849) of the American Agriculturalist quotes the Sherborne Journal as follows:

Lusus Natura.—Mr. Attwater, of Bodenham, near this city has a mare which has been some time grazing in the New Forest, and which some five or six months ago, gave birth to an animal half deer and half horse! Its head resembles that of a deer; its legs are slender, but its hoofs are divided; the mane is very curious, and almost baffles description; the color is a bright fawn; the hind quarters are like that of a horse, but the tail is of the deer tribe. The animal, on the whole is one of great curiosity, and one that chews the cud.—Sherborne Journal

Horses do not chew cud, but deer do. So this animal, born of a mare, exhibited a trait characteristic of deer and other ruminant artiodactyls, animals generally considered only distantly related to horses, that is, horses and deer are assigned to different mammalian orders (Perissodactyla and Artiodactyla, respectively). The Sherborne Journal was a newspaper published in Sherborne, Dorset, England.

The presence of the following entry in Sharp’s A New Gazetteer, Or, Topographical Dictionary of the British Islands and Narrow Seas (1852, vol. I, p. 86) suggests that the owner of this animal attained a fairly high level of notoriety:

Attwater, near Bodenham, SW. Wilts. G. Attwater Esq., who has a remarkable cross filly found in the New Forest between a mare and a deer, with a deer’s tail, hoofs, face, throat and coat.

In his book, The Origin of Life (1880, p. 474), Dr. Frederick Hollick (1818-1880), a renowned American physician, described the Attwater animal as

one of the most remarkable and best-attested instances of hybridization, between animals very remote from each other, that I have ever met with, and proves that with due care, crosses may be effected to a greater extent than is usually supposed possible.

For an additional description of this animal see Dunglison (1850, pp. 468-469).

A different instance of a deer-horse is alleged in the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal (1827, p. 390), which contains a brief report about such a hybrid entitled, “Extract of a Letter to M. de Férussac, dated Berlin, 27th January, 1827.” It reads as follows:

There is here at present an animal produced between a stag and a mare. The authorities of the place have attested the phenomenon. The appearance of the creature is very singular; the fore part is that of a horse, the hinder part that of a stag; but all the feet are like those of the latter animal. The same stag has covered another mare. The king has purchased the hybrid for the Pfaueninsel, where there is a menagerie.

For similar accounts, see also: Ackermann (1898, p. 61); Allgemeine Forst- und Jagd-zeitung (Frankfurt), vol. 3, Sunday, Oct. 18, 1827, p. 500; Anonymous 1827 (cited by Bronn 1847, p. 167). However, all of these trace to the anonymous letter just quoted.

horse-deer hybrid A horse with parasitic deer hooves (Adlersflügel 1703, fig. 24). One explanation for the presence of deer hooves in a horse is that the animal was a deer-horse hybrid.

In the 1703 edition of his Stuterey, (Stud Breeding), a manual on horse breeding, Georg Simon Winter von Adlersflügel, pictures a horse, which he says he not only saw, but also rode and trained himself (Adlersflügel 1703, p. 136), that had cloven, deer-like hooves protruding from the pastern on both front legs just above the ordinary hooves (pictured at right). Adlersflügel was a master equestrian and the author of numerous books on equine medicine. According to Adlersflügel’s account, a farmer had put the mother mare out to graze and she was covered by a red deer stag in rut.

In addition, he alleges (p. 138) that, not a deer-horse hybrid, but rather that a related hybrid, a deer-donkey, was present in London’s Royal Menagerie during the early 1680s. He includes a picture of the animal:

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mule breeding
A deer-donkey hybrid supposedly foaled in the Royal Menagerie (London) in 1681 (source: Adlersflügel 1703).

Adlersflügel gives the following instructions, rendered here in English translation, on how to obtain such hybrids, which may be of use to anyone today who might want to experiment with this cross (Adlersflügel 1703, pp. 128-129): “Begin by keeping a stag and a pregnant mare, who will foal in August, together in a park throughout the spring and summer, through the time of her delivery, so that they will get used to each other’s company. There must be no other beast present. In this way, when the mare, having foaled, comes into heat, the stag, when he enters rut without access to does, will mount and service the mare. And she, being lusty and in heat, will readily accept his advances.”

Deer-horse hybrids: Early reports

Two other, earlier authors mention deer-horse hybrids. In his Journey through Wales (twelfth century, translated by Sir Richard Colt Hoare), Gerald of Wales says a mare mated with a stag “and produced an animal of wonderful speed, resembling a horse before and a stag behind.”

Louis XII Louis XII

And the Swiss surgeon Jakob Ruf (1500-1558) mentions a separate instance of a deer-horse hybrid (De Conceptu et Generatione Hominis, Tiguri, 1587, p. 48):

Indeed, in France, a mare impregnated by a deer bore a foal that resembled a deer in its posterior portion and that no other horse could equal in speed, and King Louis received it as a gift from its owner.

[Translated by E. M. McCarthy. Original Latin.]

The “King Louis” mentioned by Ruf was probably Louis XII (reigned 1498-1515), given that no other French king by the name of Louis reigned during Ruf’s lifetime.

Thus, in several of the older accounts of deer-horse hybrids, it is the anterior portion of the hybrid that is horse-like, while the posterior is deer-like, which is the same configuration as Adlersflügel’s deer-donkey hybrid pictured above. However, the alleged conformation of the Attwater animal pictured at the top of this page seems to have been the opposite, except in that that animal was supposed to have had the tail of a deer.

Also, in all cases it is stated that a stag crossed with a mare. Many hybrid crosses are directional in this way, that is, either mating doesn’t occur when the cross is reversed (in the present case the reverse, or reciprocal, cross would be a stallion mated with a doe) or they don’t yield a hybrid even when insemination does occur. It’s perhaps worth mentioning, as well, that some distant crosses require many inseminations to produce a single mature hybrid. For example, attempts to cross turkeys with chickens have shown that about 1,000 artificial inseminations of hens with turkey semen are required to produce a single adult hybrid.

Note: For a consultation fee, the author of this article is willing to assist anyone who might like to attempt the production of such a hybrid. Send him a message through the contact page.

An unverified modern account

deer-horse hybrid An alleged deer-horse hybrid (Odocoileus virginianus × Equus caballus) - Enlarge picture

White-tailed Deer
White-tailed Deer
Odocoileus virginianus

An anonymous participant in a now defunct page of a hunting and fishing forum posted the picture of an alleged deer-horse hybrid shown at right. When accused of faking the picture, he or she responded as follows:

I personally took the picture myself. The deer was killed in [Georgia] on a dog/hunting club around Christmas. It is the only deer we have ever seen like this. Even the hooves had white on them. So I guess I will take this as a personal attack that you are calling me a liar. I do not care for being called a liar. I guess that everyone who posts something on here needs a certificate of authenticity? This is not a photoshop. PERIOD. Believe it or not. I didn’t post this picture or join this forum to be ridiculed and called a liar.

Lower down on the same page, he or she continued as follows:

So I took it that I was being told that when I said it was not photoshopped, that I was not believed. I should have been clearer that I was the camera man. It was taken on a raggedy phone. The deer had been skinned and quartered. I don’t know how y'all do it in Nebraska, but we clean them ourselves at home, and take the remains to the woods. That was just before he hauled it off. He wanted to show a few people the legs, etc. so they stayed with the hide. I would have mounted it. That guy didn'’t have the $ so he didn’t keep it. I am sorry I have no other pics,and can only offer you my word that what you are seeing is the real thing. I think it is the coolest wild deer I have ever seen in my life.

Given that the White-tailed Deer is the only cervid native to Georgia, the cross alleged would presumably be Odocoileus virginianus × Equus caballus.

From the standpoint of taxonomic classification, deer-horse hybrids are similar to cow-horse hybrids, another distant hybrid of which there have been numerous reports. Another deer-horse hybrid (moose × horse) has been alleged, but requires confirmation.

Bird-mammal hybrids >>

deer-cow hybrid Deer-cow hybrids?

Table of contents >>

Bibliography >>

Biology Dictionary >>

By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).


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