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|Kandy, Sri Lanka|
|Indian muntjac range|
The Indian muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak), also called the southern red muntjac and barking deer, is a deer species native to South and Southeast Asia. It is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.
This muntjac has soft, short, brownish or greyish hair, sometimes with creamy markings. It is among the smallest deer species. It is an omnivore and eats grass, fruit, shoots, seeds, bird eggs, and small animals, and occasionally scavenges on carrion. Its calls sound like barking, often when frightened by a predator, hence the common name "barking deer". Males have canines, short antlers that usually branch just once near the base, and a large postorbital scent gland used to mark territories.
The Indian muntjac has a short but very soft, thick, dense coat that is more dense in cooler regions. Its face is darker and the limbs are dark to reddish brown and the coat color seasonally varies from darker brown to yellowish and grayish brown and is white ventrally. Its ears have much less hair, but otherwise are the same color as the rest of the head. Male muntjacs have short antlers, about 10 cm (3.9 in) long, that protrude from long body hair-covered pedicels above the eyes. Females have tufts of fur and small bony knobs instead of antlers. Males also have elongated (2–4 cm (0.79–1.57 in), slightly curved upper canines, which can be used in male-male conflicts and inflict serious injury. The body length of muntjacs varies from 89–135 cm (35–53 in), and height ranges from 40–65 cm (16–26 in). The muntjacs, unique among the deer, have large, obvious facial (preorbital, in front of the eyes) scent glands used to mark territories or females. Males have larger glands than females.
Distribution and habitat
The Indian muntjac is among the most widespread, but least known of all mammals in South Asia. It is found in Bhutan, Bangladesh, southern China, northeastern India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Malay Peninsula, the Riau Archipelago, Sumatra, Bangka Island, Belitung, Java, Bali, and Borneo. It is found in tropical and subtropical deciduous forests, grasslands, savannas, and scrub forests, as well as in the hilly country on the slopes of the Himalayas, at altitudes ranging from sea level up to 3,000 m (9,800 ft). They never wander far from water.
M. muntjac is a terrestrial mammal. A close survey of its microhabitat on Hainan Island was conducted from 2001 to 2002 by tracking with radio collar the localities of three females and two males. Results showed a favoritism towards shrub grassland, thorny shrub land, and dry savanna over woods, cultivated grass plots, and deciduous monsoon forests. Food availability was higher at foraging sites than at bed sites, but bed sites had taller and denser vegetation. No significant difference in wet vs dry was found in food abundance, so habitat selection seemed to be based upon maximum tree height and canopy diameters.
Ornithodoros indica has been recorded to be a parasite of the Indian muntjac, but it does not likely influence the distribution of this deer.
Distribution of subspecies
There are 15 subspecies:
- M. m. annamensis, Indochina
- M. m. aureus, peninsular India
- M. m. bancanus, Belitung and Bangka Islands
- M. m. curvostylis, Thailand
- M. m. grandicornis, Burmese muntjac, Burma
- M. m. malabaricus, South India and Sri Lanka
- M. m. montanus, Sumatran or mountain muntjac, Sumatra
- M. m. muntjak, Javan muntjac, Java and south Sumatra
- M. m. nainggolani, Bali and Lombok Islands
- M. m. nigripes, black-footed or black-legged muntjac, Vietnam and Hainan Island
- M. m. peninsulae, Malaysia
- M. m. pleicharicus, South Borneo
- M. m. robinsoni, Bintan Island and Lingga Islands
- M. m. rubidus, north Borneo
- M. m. vaginalis, Burma to southwest China
Ecology and behavior
The Indian muntjac is also called "barking deer" due to the bark-like sound that it makes as an alarm when danger is present. It is also called Kakar. Other than during the rut (mating season) and for the first six months after giving birth, the adult Indian muntjac is a solitary animal. Adult males in particular are well spaced and marking grass and bushes with secretions from their preorbital glands appears to be involved in the acquisition and maintenance of territory. Males acquire territories that they mark with scent markers by rubbing their preorbital glands (located on their face, just below the eyes) on the ground and on trees, scraping their hooves against the ground, and scraping the bark of trees with their lower incisors. These scent markers allow other muntjacs to know whether a territory is occupied or not. Males often fight with each other over these territories, sufficient vegetation, and for primary preference over females when mating using their short antlers and an even more dangerous weapon, their canines. If a male is not strong enough to acquire his own territory, it will most likely become prey to a leopard or some other predator. During the time of the rut, territorial lines are temporarily disregarded and overlap, while males roam constantly in search of a receptive female.
These deer are highly alert creatures. When put into a stressful situation or if a predator is sensed, muntjacs begin making a bark-like sound. Barking was originally thought of as a means of communication between the deer during mating season, as well as an alert. However, in more recent studies, it has been identified as a mechanism used solely in alarming situations meant to cause a predator to realize that it has been detected and move elsewhere or to reveal itself. The barking mechanism is used more frequently when visibility is reduced and can last for over an hour regarding one incident. Muntjacs exhibit both diurnality and nocturnality.
The Indian muntjacs are classified as omnivores. They are considered both browsers and grazers with a diet consisting of grasses, ivy, prickly bushes, low-growing leaves, bark, twigs, herbs, fruit, sprouts, seeds, tender shoots, bird eggs, and small, warm-blooded animals. Indian muntjacs are typically found feeding at the edge of the forest or in abandoned clearings. The muntjacs found in the Nilgiri-Wayand area of south India are always sited in the large tea estates, as they feed mostly on tea seeds. Their large canine teeth help in the processes of retrieving and ingesting food.
The Indian muntjacs are polygamous animals. Females sexually mature during their first to second year of life. These females are polyestrous, with each cycle lasting about 14 to 21 days and an estrus lasting for 2 days. The gestation period is 6–7 months and they usually bear one offspring at a time, but sometimes produce twins. Females usually give birth in dense growth so that they are hidden from the rest of the herd and predators. The young leaves its mother after about 6 months to establish its own territory. Males often fight between one another for possession of a harem of females. Indian muntjacs are distinguished from other even-toed ungulates in showing no evidence of a specific breeding season within the species. Adults exhibit relatively large home range overlap both intersexually and intrasexually, meaning that strict territorialism did not occur but some form of site-specific dominance exists.
Evolution and genetics
Paleontological evidence proves that Indian muntjacs have been around since the late Pleistocene epoch at least 12,000 years ago. Scientists are interested in studying muntjacs because between species, they have a wide variation in number of chromosomes; in fact, the Indian muntjac has the lowest recorded number of chromosomes of any mammal, with males having a diploid number of 7 and females having 6 chromosomes. They are the oldest known members of the deer family, and the earliest known deer-like creatures had horns instead of antlers, but the muntjac is the earliest known species to actually have antlers. Ancestor to muntjacs is the Dicrocerus elegans, which is the oldest known deer to shed antlers. Other fossils found that deer species experienced a split of the Cervinae from the Muntiacinae, the latter of which remained of similar morphology. Muntjacs of this time during the Miocene were smaller than their modern counterparts. Molecular data have suggested that Indian and Fea's muntjacs share a common ancestor, while giant muntjacs are more closely related to Reeve's muntjac. Although the muntjac deer has a long lineage, little has been studied in terms of their fossil record. The female Indian muntjac deer is the mammal with the lowest recorded diploid number of chromosomes, where 2n = 6. The male has a diploid number of seven chromosomes. In comparison, the similar Reeves's muntjac (M. reevesi) has a diploid number of 46 chromosomes.
They have played a major role in Southern Asia, being hunted for sport and for their meat and skin. Often, these animals are hunted around the outskirts of agricultural areas, as they are considered a nuisance for damaging crops and ripping bark from trees.
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